Adolescent self-defined neighborhoods and activity spaces: spatial overlap and relations to physical activity and obesity.

Defining the proper geographic scale for built environment exposures continues to present challenges. In this study, size attributes and exposure calculations from two commonly used neighborhood boundaries were compared to those from neighborhoods that were self-defined by a sample of 145 urban minority adolescents living in subsidized housing estates. Associations between five built environment exposures and physical activity, overweight and obesity were also examined across the three neighborhood definitions. Limited spatial overlap was observed across the various neighborhood definitions. Further, many places where adolescents were active were not within the participants neighborhoods. No statistically significant associations were found between counts of facilities and the outcomes based on exposure calculations using the self-defined boundaries; however, a few associations were evident for exposures using the 0.75mile network buffer and census tract boundaries. Future investigation of the relationship between the built environment, physical activity and obesity will require practical and theoretically-based methods for capturing salient environmental exposures.