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Rural town walkability: measuring the effect of the built environment

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This research will identify built environmental correlates of walking in rural towns and evaluate the role of low socioeconomic status (SES) and Latino ethnicity on these relationships. The prevalence of physical inactivity and obesity is significantly higher among rural residents, [persons with low socioeconomic status (SES), and Latinos. Modification of the built environment to increase physical activity, and walking in particular, holds the potential to reduce the prevalence of obesity and chronic illness among residents of rural towns. Specifically, identifying [objective and perceived] aspects of the physical environment that facilitate walking may stimulate environmental change promoting healthier, active lifestyles. By studying rural towns from three distinct geographic regions, New England, Texas, and Washington State, with a varying range of socio-economic and ethnic characteristics, this study will: [(1) measure built environmental correlates of walking among small town residents, using objective and perceived measures of the built environment and self-reported measures of walking (total, recreational, and utilitarian purpose); (2) evaluate the degree to which built environmental correlates of walking among rural town residents are influenced by SES (household income and educational attainment) and Latino ethnicity; and (3) validate the built environmental correlates of walking using accelerometer and global positioning system measures.] By capitalizing on our experience developing and validating measures of walking for urban and suburban areas, we are well-positioned to apply our knowledge toward the, as yet unexplored, issue of rural town walkability, [concentrating on identifying the role of SES and Latino ethnicity on built environment correlates of walking in these locations]. This work will lay the foundation for future research on the relationship between the rural built environment and health behaviors and, ultimately, intervention trials to help rural towns better structure the built environment to promote walking among their highest risk residents. PUBLIC HEALTH RELEVANCE: Understanding relationships between objective and perceived measures of the built environment and walking holds the potential to ultimately reduce socioeconomic and ethnic health disparities among residents of rural towns. This study will supply needed information to help rural towns promote walking and enhance health, particularly among the most vulnerable residents of these locations.
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