Background: Residents of more socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods are more likely to report poorer physical function, although the reasons for this remain unknown. It is possible that neighborhood-level perceptions of safety from crime contribute to this relationship through its association with walking for recreation.
Methods: Data were obtained from the fourth wave (collected in 2013) of the HABITAT (How Areas in Brisbane Influence HealTh and AcTivity) multilevel longitudinal study of middle- to older-aged adults (46–74 y) residing in 200 neighborhoods in Brisbane, Australia. The data were analyzed separately for men (n = 2190) and women (n = 2977) using multilevel models.
Results: Residents of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods had poorer physical function, perceived their neighborhoods to be less safe from crime, and do less walking for recreation. These factors accounted for differences in physical function between disadvantaged and advantaged neighborhoods (24% for men and 25% for women).
Conclusion: This study highlights the importance of contextual characteristics, through their associations with behaviors, that can have in explaining the relationship between neighborhood disadvantage and physical function. Interventions aimed at improving neighborhood safety integrated with supportive environments for physical activity may have positive impact on physical function among all socioeconomic groups.