Presentation at the 2008 Active Living Research Annual Conference
Physical inactivity and increasing rates of obesity are critical issues in public heath. Access to urban parks, open space and trails are important components of the built environment that have been linked to increased physical activity. Curiously, a critical factor that may influence physical activity, namely the provision of organized urban recreation programs, has received little attention in research on the built environment.
To expand existing analytical frameworks linking the urban environment and physical activity to include organized recreation facilities, and test multivariate statistical models explaining the intrametropolitan distribution of organized public recreational resources, using empirical data from southern California.
Through a cross-sectional data audit, recreation courses for summer 2006 were collected for 92 municipalities in southern California. Each recreation course was geo-referenced and coded spatially to include information about location on or off park grounds, as well as characterized according to type, duration, cost, and targeted age group. Multivariate regression analysis was used to investigate relationships between city recreation course offerings and a range of variables including fiscal capacity, park and recreation expenditures, socio-economic and demographic characteristics.
Of the 7,700 spatially referenced recreation courses, 49.4% (3804) were not contained within the boundaries of a park at 489 distinct locations while 50.6% (3896) were found on parks grounds at 380 different sites. The top five class types included dance (22.6%), team sports (16.5%), swimming (13.1%), tennis (9.4%), and martial arts (7.2%). The majority of courses were between 30 to 60 minutes in length (54.4%). 74% of classes were offered to children under 18, with Ages 0-5 (12.1%) and Ages 5-18 (61.8%). The majority of courses were for pay (93.7%) with 59.1% between 20 and 75 dollars. Modeling indicated municipally based recreational resources were unevenly distributed across the metropolitan region. Cities with high median income, job density and proportion white populations offer the richest array of public recreational courses. Areas characterized by high proportion of Hispanic and black populations as well as lesser fiscal capacity have significantly less recreation provisions.
Current conceptions of the potentials for physical activity in the built environment need to be enlarged to include organized recreational courses, almost half of which take place outside of urban park locations. Intra-metropolitan disparities exist: cities with less fiscal capacity and whose populations are non-white have less access to active recreation programs. These findings suggest that in addition to emphasizing the importance of park and/or trail access, urban planners and public health advocates should focus on expanding organized recreation programs in such cities as a strategy to increase physical activity and health.
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation via Active Living Research