Environment and physical activity dynamics: The role of residential self-selection

Janne Boone-Heinonen, Penny Gordon-Larsen, David K. Guilkey, David R. Jacobs, Barry M. Popkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

141 Scopus citations


Objectives: Within the socio-ecologic framework, diet and physical activity are influenced by individual, inter-personal, organizational, community, and public policy factors. A basic principle underlying this framework is that environments can influence an individual's behavior. However, in the vast majority of cross-sectional and even the few longitudinal studies of this relationship, the question of whether individuals select their area of residence based on physical activity-related amenities is ignored.In this paper, we address a critical methodological issue: self-selection of residential location, which is generally not accounted for, and can significantly compromise research on the relationship between environmental factors and physical activity behaviors. Method: We define and discuss the problem of residential self-selection in the study of neighborhood influences on health and health behavior, review methods used to control for residential self-selection in the literature, and present our strategy for addressing this potentially important source of bias. Conclusion: Existing research has built our understanding of residential self-selection bias, but important gaps remain. Our strategy uses data from a longitudinal cohort study linked to contemporaneous environmental measures to create a multi-equation model system to simultaneously estimate residential choice, environmental influences on physical activity, and downstream health outcomes such as obesity and clinical cardiovascular disease risk factor measures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)54-60
Number of pages7
JournalPsychology of Sport and Exercise
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded by the National Institutes of Health (R01-HD057194 and R01-HD041375, R01-HD39183, R01-CA121152, and R01-CA109831); a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC SIP No. 5-00); and grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Active Living Research and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (R36-EH000380) and The Henry Dearman and Martha Stucker Dissertation Fellowship in the Royster Society of Fellows at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There were no potential or real conflicts of financial or personal interest with the financial sponsors of the scientific project.


  • Built environment
  • Environment design
  • Epidemiology
  • Neighborhoods
  • Physical activity
  • Promotion & Maintenance of Health & Wellness
  • Residential selection


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