A physically active lifestyle is a key contributor to healthy aging . Transport-related walking can be a substantial source of physical activity in elders . By definition, the ability to walk to and from places depends on the availability and accessibility of relevant destinations. It is, thus, important to identify destinations that can potentially contribute to increased levels of walking for transport in elders and, also, identify environmental conditions that facilitate or hinder walking to such destinations.
The evidence about the categories of destinations that may impact on elders’ walking for transport is scarce. This is especially the case for non-Western populations. A handful of studies reported positive associations with diversity of land uses, access to commercial services, and/or public transit points [3–6]. However, some of these studies were entirely based on self-reports, while others used very generic objective measures of access to services (e.g., urbanization level) providing insufficient information on the categories of destinations (e.g., recreational or retail) that may matter to elders.
Importantly, no studies have attempted to examine the distinct contributions of destination prevalence and diversity to elders’ walking for transport. Here, destination prevalence refers to the number of destinations of a specific type within an area (e.g., neighborhood). For example, the number of all public recreational facilities in a neighborhood would provide a neighborhood-level measure of recreational destination prevalence. Thus, a neighborhood with two parks and a swimming pool (and no other recreational destinations) would have a recreational destination prevalence score of three facilities. In contrast, destination diversity refers to the number of types of destinations within an area. For example, the above-described neighborhood would have a recreational destination diversity score of two (two types of recreational destinations: park and swimming pool).
In general, destination prevalence and diversity represent measures of access and availability of services and, hence, are hypothesized to facilitate walking for transport (Van Cauwenberg et al., 2011). Distinguishing between these two destination dimensions is important because they may associate with walking for transport in different ways, which would have practical implications for the planning of environmental interventions. For example, diversity of public recreational destinations may have stronger positive effects on walking than prevalence. This is because recreational destinations of the same type (e.g., swimming pools) provide relatively uniform services/activities, while diverse public recreational facilities provide more activity options that can match residents’ preferences. In contrast, commercial destinations and services of the same type (e.g., Western fast food restaurants) may greatly vary in the range and quality of activities/products they offer. Consequently, having a greater prevalence of the same type of commercial destinations likely expands the range of choices and, hence, their relevance to a larger proportion of residents.
Destination prevalence and diversity are not the only neighborhood attributes that may encourage walking for transport. Aspects of neighborhood safety and pedestrian infrastructure may determine destination visitations and, thus, their effects on walking for transport. Although, there is some evidence that aspects of neighborhood safety [7, 8] and pedestrian infrastructure [7, 9] may have an additive effect on elders’ walking for transport, it is unknown whether they also interact with destination availability. It is plausible to assume that the availability of destinations may more positively impact on the walking behavior of residents of safer neighborhoods with a better pedestrian infrastructure.
Additionally, most studies did not examine environmental correlates of overall and within-neighborhood walking for transport. To understand how destination availability, neighborhood safety, and pedestrian infrastructure impact walking for transport, it is important to consider where walking occurs. This is particularly relevant to ultra-dense urban environments, as the present study site, with a developed public transport network allowing residents to easily access destinations and services outside their neighborhoods and, thus, compensate for the lack of within-neighborhood facilities. In support of this contention, using data from this study sample, we found stronger associations of perceived land use mix with within-neighborhood than overall walking for transport . In other words, it appears that Hong Kong elders that do not have access to a variety of facilities (high levels of land use mix) in their neighborhood, can easily access other destination-rich areas by public transport and then walk to/from destinations in these areas.
To address the research gaps outlined above, this study examined associations of objectively-measured prevalence and diversity of nine destination categories with overall and within-neighborhood walking for transport in Chinese elders residing in Hong Kong, an ultra-dense metropolis [10–12]. We also examined the moderating effects of neighborhood safety and pedestrian infrastructure aspects on the above associations.
It was hypothesized that (1) compared to overall walking for transport, within-neighborhood walking for transport would be more strongly positively associated with each destination measure, with the exception of public transit points, which may facilitate walking outside the neighborhood ; (2) more favorable levels of neighborhood safety and pedestrian infrastructure would strengthen the positive associations of destination measures with overall and within-neighborhood walking for transport; (3) diversity measures of non-commercial destinations providing relatively uniform services (e.g., government, health services, or public recreational facilities) would be more strongly related to walking than their respective prevalence measures, and the opposite would hold for commercial destinations (e.g., food stores).