The Challenge: Many communities, especially those with populations at high risk for obesity, lack recreational facilities.
Make an impact: Schools are often centrally located within a community and have gymnasiums, playgrounds, sports fields, courts, tracks or other facilities that could provide opportunities for residents to be active if they were available outside of normal school hours. . The shared use (or joint use) of existing school and community sport and recreational facilities can be a cost-effective way to promote physical activity among residents of all ages. Joint use agreements, for example, can provide opportunities for a local youth league to use school fields in the afternoons or on weekends, or promote reciprocal use of school facilities with a local park.
What the findings are about: This brief summarizes research on community access to school sport and recreation facilities outside of school hours, as well as studies that examine the shared use of school facilities and programs with other community groups or agencies. It also describes challenges commonly associated with the shared use of recreational facilities, and opportunities for policy-makers at the state and local level.
Key Findings and Recommendations:
Children who have access to existing and renovated school recreational facilities outside of regular school hours are more likely to be active.
Progress toward opening school facilities for recreational use outside of school hours is slow and some evidence suggests that lower-income communities are less likely than higher-income communities to offer shared use of school facilities.
Surveys of school administrators in lower-income communities or communities of color cite issues such as liability, staffing, maintenance and cost as barriers to opening schools for recreational use outside of school hours.
The Institute of Medicine recommends that local governments “collaborate with school districts and other organizations to establish joint use of facilities agreements allowing playing fields, playgrounds, and recreation centers to be used by community residents when schools are closed; and if necessary, adopt regulatory and legislative policies to address liability issues that might block implementation.”
Schools, community groups and local governments can enter into joint use agreements to address the perceived barriers to sharing recreational facilities and programs.
Spengler J.O. Promoting Physical Activity through the Shared Use of School and Community Recreational Resources. A Research Brief. Princeton, NJ: Active Living Research, a National Program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; April 2012. Available from: www.activelivingresearch.org.