Presentation at the 2012 Active Living Research Annual Conference.
Parks are increasingly recognized as an important component of the built environment for physical activity (PA). Research indicates that park characteristics such as access, safety, features, condition, and attractiveness may influence PA (Bedimo-Rung et al., 2005). However, few studies have examined how residents’ perceptions of neighborhood park quality relates to their PA and health outcomes, despite the fact that self-reported perceptions may be an equally viable and important method to understand how environmental factors influence active living (Brownson et al., 2009).
The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between residents’ perceptions of park quality in their neighborhood and their moderate and vigorous PA, park-based PA, and body mass index (BMI). A secondary objective was to examine the test-retest reliability of the neighborhood park quality scale.
Data were gathered via survey from 893 (27.4% response rate) randomly selected households within ½ mile of 60 parks in Kansas City, Missouri in October-December 2010. Test-retest questionnaires were sent out to a sample of initial respondents two weeks after the first mailing (N=72, 48.0% response rate). The questionnaire included questions pertaining to perceptions of neighborhood park quality, PA, and demographics. Perceptions of neighborhood park quality were measured on a five-point scale (1=strongly disagree, 5=strongly agree) using seven items adapted from previous research (Ries et al., 2009). The items assessed cleanliness, availability of facilities of interest, how well used the parks are, attractiveness, safety, maintenance, and benefits to the neighborhood. PA questions were modeled after BRFSS questions measuring both moderate and vigorous intensity activity. Respondents were also asked to indicate the number of minutes they participate in PA in park/outdoor recreation areas in a usual week. Finally, BMI was calculated based on self-reported height and weight. Interclass correlations (ICCs) were calculated to gauge the test-retest reliability of the park quality questions. All variables were examined for normality and multicollinearity, and PA variables were transformed to correct skewness. Controlling for gender, age, and race/ethnicity, four multiple regression analyses were performed to examine the relationship of 7 neighborhood park quality items (IVs) with minutes of moderate PA per week, minutes of vigorous PA per week, minutes of park-based PA per week, and BMI.
Test-retest ICCs of the neighborhood park quality questions ranged from 0.49 to 0.76, indicating moderate to substantial agreement (Landis & Koch, 1977). In addition, the set of 7 items displayed high internal reliability (=.91). Residents reported positive perceptions of their neighborhood parks, most strongly agreeing that parks are a benefit to people living nearby (M=3.85) and are clean (M=3.70), while rating the availability of facilities of interest the lowest (M=3.21). Results from the multiple regression analyses indicated that perceptions of neighborhood park quality predicted vigorous PA (F=2.02, p<.05, R2=.08), park-based PA (F=4.45, p<.001, R2=.10), and BMI (F=2.17, p<.05, R2=.04), yet not moderate PA. Perceiving parks as a neighborhood benefit was positively related to minutes of park-based PA (=.15, p<.05) and negatively related to BMI (=-.13, p<.05). Perceptions of how well the parks are used was positively related to minutes of vigorous PA (=.26, p<.01), as well as BMI (=.14, p<.05). Finally, perceived cleanliness of neighborhood parks was negatively related to park-based PA (=-.16, p<.05).
These findings suggest that residents’ perceptions of their neighborhood park quality are related to PA and health outcomes. The relationships between perceived benefits of neighborhood parks and increased park-based PA and decreased BMI indicate that promoting positive attitudes and helping residents understand the numerous benefits of local parks may also help promote PA and well-being. In addition, perceptions of how well-used local parks are was positively associated with minutes of vigorous PA, suggesting that perceiving other people’s use of the park could enhance overall vigorous PA of residents; this is consistent with research that shows viewing others engaging in PA can help promote PA (Addy et al., 2004; Ries et al., 2009). Interestingly, greater perceived park use levels were also associated with higher BMI, possibly indicating that popular parks are viewed as places for more sedentary social gatherings such as picnics, or perhaps perceptions of crowded parks discourages use for PA. Finally, the negative relationship between perceived cleanliness and park-based PA suggests that more frequent active users of parks may be more cognizant of park incivilities. Given the demonstrated reliability of the neighborhood park quality scale, future research should consider residents’ perceptions in addition to GIS and audit data about parks. Better measuring and understanding how perceptions of local parks are associated with PA and health can add a valuable dimension to our appreciation of the role of parks in facilitating active living. Further, understanding disparities in perceptions of neighborhood park quality may be important to promote physical activity among diverse groups.
University of Missouri Research Council, Kansas State University Office of Research, and Kansas City, Missouri Parks and Recreation Department.