Parks & Recreation

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Parks and recreation facilities provide opportunities for physical activity and can help people of all ages lead a more active lifestyle. People who live near parks are more likely to be active. However, some lower-income communities and communities of color tend to have less access to quality parks and recreation facilities. Our research documents the most effective ways to improve the design, quality and availability of parks and recreation resources. Making recreational facilities accessible in all communities is a critical strategy for increasing physical activity and preventing obesity.

Download our Parks and Recreation-related Resources Sheet for the best evidence available about a variety of park- and trail-based strategies for promoting physical activity.

View The Role of Parks and Recreation in Promoting Physical Activity infographic.

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Effectiveness of a scaled up physical activity intervention in Brazil: A natural experiment

Date: 
10/01/2017
Description: 

Simões EJ, Hallal PC, Siqueira FV, et al. (2017). Effectiveness of a scaled up physical activity intervention in Brazil: A natural experiment. Prev Med. 103(Suppl), S66-S72.

Abstract: 

Physical inactivity causes 5.3 million deaths annually worldwide. We evaluated the impact on population leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) of scaling up an intervention in Brazil, Academia das Cidades program (AC-P). AC-P is a health promotion program classified as physical activity classes in community settings which started in the state of Pernambuco state in 2008.

We surveyed households from 80 cities of Pernambuco state in 2011, 2012 and 2013, using monitoring data to classify city-level exposure to AC-P. We targeted 2370 individuals in 2011; 3824 individuals in 2012; and 3835 individuals in 2013. We measured participation in AC-P and whether respondents had seen an AC-P activity or heard about AC-P. We measured LTPA using the International Physical Activity Questionnaire. We estimated the odds of reaching recommended LTPA by levels of exposure to the three AC-P measures.

For women, the odds of reaching recommended LTPA were 1.10 for those living in cities with AC-P activity for less than three years, and 1.46 for those living in cities with AC-P activity for more than three years compared to those living in cities that had not adopted AC-P. The odds of reaching recommended LTPA increased with AC-P participation and knowledge about AC-P.

AC-P exposure is associated with increased population LTPA. Extending AC-P to all cities could potentially impact non-communicable diseases in Brazil.

Authors: 
Eduardo J Simões, Pedro C Hallal, Fernando V Siqueira, Chester Schmaltz, Danielle Menor, Deborah C Malta, Hebe Duarte, Adriano Akira Hino, Gregore I Mielke, Michael Pratt, Rodrigo S Reis
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Equity in Active Living for People with Disabilities: Less Talk and More Action

Date: 
02/01/2017
Description: 

Rimmer, J.H. (2017). Equity in Active Living for People with Disabilities: Less Talk and More Action. Prev Med. 95(Suppl), S154-S156.

Authors: 
JH Rimmer
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Strategic and Integrated Planning for Healthy, Connected Cities: Chattanooga Case Study

Description: 

Elwell Bostrom, H., Shulaker, B., Rippon, J., & Wood, R. (2017). Strategic and Integrated Planning for Healthy, Connected Cities: Chattanooga Case Study. Prev Med. 95(Suppl), S115-S119.

Date: 
02/01/2017
Abstract: 

The United States is facing unprecedented health challenges – such as obesity and cardiovascular disease – many of which are related to a lack of or insufficient physical activity. Maintaining or creating parks and other public recreation facilities that promote physical activity is particularly important for combating these. This brief describes a strategic planning initiative, known as “Healthy, Connected Chattanooga.” The City of Chattanooga, Tennessee, partnered with The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit organization, to analyze the city for physical activity opportunities and identify areas where interventions were of highest need. Interventions include the creation of new parks and the activation of existing ones through the installation of fitness facilities known as Fitness Zones®. Maps and an on-line decision-support tool (web portal) were developed between 2013 and 2015, and are being used by the city to make strategic investment decisions. The decision-support analysis described in this brief has engaged a wide variety of stakeholders, opened the door to a broader base of funding sources for health-related interventions, and provided evidence for discussions about equity, access to resources, and prioritization of future projects. This brief presents a framework for integrating scientific models with community and social metrics, enabling more complete and accurate understanding of cities and the identification of more equitable, strategic, and investable solutions to current and pressing challenges.

Authors: 
H Elwell Bostrom, B Shulaker, J Rippon, & R Wood
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“We Actually Care and We Want to Make the Parks Better”: A Qualitative Study of Youth Experiences and Perceptions after Conducting Park Audits

Date: 
02/01/2017
Description: 

Gallerani, D.G., Besenyi, G.M., Wilhelm Stanis, S.A., & Kaczynski, A.T. (2017). “We Actually Care and We Want to Make the Parks Better”: A Qualitative Study of Youth Experiences and Perceptions after Conducting Park Audits. Prev Med. 95(Suppl), S109-S114.

Abstract: 

This study explored youths' experiences and perceptions about community engagement as a result of participating in a community-based data collection project using paper and mobile technology park environmental audit tools. In July 2014, youth (ages 11–18, n = 50) were recruited to participate in nine focus groups after auditing two parks each using paper, electronic, or both versions of the Community Park Audit Tool in Greenville County, SC. The focus groups explored the youths' experiences participating in the project, changes as a result of participation, suggested uses of park audit data collected, and who should use the tools. Four themes emerged related to youths' project participation experiences: two positive (fun and new experiences) and two negative (uncomfortable/unsafe and travel issues). Changes described as a result of participating in the project fell into four themes: increased awareness, motivation for further action, physical activity benefits, and no change. Additionally, youth had numerous suggestions for utilizing the data collected that were coded into six themes: maintenance & aesthetics, feature/amenity addition, online park information, park rating/review system, fundraising, and organizing community projects. Finally, six themes emerged regarding who the youth felt could use the tools: frequent park visitors, community groups/organizations, parks and recreation professionals, adults, youth, and everyone. This study revealed a wealth of information about youth experiences conducting park audits for community health promotion. Understanding youth attitudes and preferences can help advance youth empowerment and civic engagement efforts to promote individual and community health.

Authors: 
DG Gallerani, GM Besenyi, SA Wilhelm Stanis, & AT Kaczynski
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Green and Lean: Is Neighborhood Park and Playground Availability Associated with Youth Obesity? Variations by Gender, Socioeconomic Status, and Race/Ethnicity

Date: 
02/01/2017
Description: 

Hughey, S.M., Kaczynski, A.T., Child, S., Moore, J.B., Porter, D., & Hibbert, J. (2017). Green and Lean: Is Neighborhood Park and Playground Availability Associated with Youth Obesity? Variations by Gender, Socioeconomic Status, and Race/Ethnicity. Prev Med. 95(Suppl), S101-S108.

Abstract: 

Parks and park features are important for promoting physical activity and healthy weight, especially for low-income and racial/ethnic minority youth who have disproportionately high obesity rates. This study 1) examined associations between neighborhood park and playground availability and youth obesity, and 2) assessed whether these associations were moderated by youth race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status (SES). In 2013, objectively measured height and weight were collected for all 3rd–5th grade youth (n = 13.469) in a southeastern US county to determine body mass index (BMI) percentiles. Enumeration and audits of the county's parks (n = 103) were concurrently conducted. Neighborhood park and playground availability were calculated as the number of each facility within or intersecting each youth's Census block group. Multilevel linear regression models were utilized to examine study objectives. For boys, no main effects were detected; however, SES moderated associations such that higher park availability was associated with lower BMI percentile for low-SES youth but higher BMI percentile for high-SES youth. For girls, the number of parks and playgrounds were significantly associated with lower BMI (b = − 2.2, b = − 1.1, p < 0.05, respectively) and race/ethnicity and SES moderated associations between playground availability and BMI percentile. Higher playground availability was associated with lower BMI percentile for White and high-SES girls but higher BMI percentile for African American and low-SES girls. Considerable variation was detected in associations between park and playground availability and youth obesity by SES and race/ethnicity, highlighting the importance of studying the intersection of these characteristics when exploring associations between built environment features and obesity.

Authors: 
SM Hughey, AT Kaczynski, S Child, JB Moore, D Porter, & J Hibbert
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A Longitudinal Examination of Improved Access on Park Use and Physical Activity in a Low-Income and Majority African American Neighborhood Park

Date: 
02/01/2017
Description: 

Schultz, C.L., Wilhelm Stanis, S.A., Sayers, S.P., Thombs, L.A., & Thomas, I.M. (2017). A Longitudinal Examination of Improved Access on Park Use and Physical Activity in a Low-Income and Majority African American Neighborhood Park. Prev Med. 95(Suppl), S95-S100.

Abstract: 

This study sought to evaluate the impact of street crossing infrastructure modifications on park use and park-based physical activity in a low-income and African American community. A five-lane major highway created an access barrier between low-income housing units and the local neighborhood park in Columbia, Missouri. The installation of a signalized pedestrian crosswalk provided an opportunity to conduct a natural experiment to examine the effect of improved safe access upon community active living behaviors. Direct observation using SOPARC was collected prior to the crosswalk instillation in June 2012, after the crosswalk installation in June 2013 and again as a follow up in June 2014 during the same two-week period to assess changes in total park use and total energy expenditure by age, gender and race/ethnicity. Analysis of covariance models, controlling for temperature examined changes in total counts and total energy expenditure using pairwise Sidak post-hoc comparisons. Total park use increased from 2012 (n = 2080) to 2013 (n = 2275) and remained constant in 2014 (n = 2276). However, despite increases in safe access and overall park use, there was a significant decrease in total energy expenditure following the installation of the crosswalk that was sustained in 2014. This study shows that increasing safe access to parks primarily positively influences park use but not park-based physical activity. While improved safe access is encouraging greater park use, there is a need for future research to examine additional factors such as social support, programming and environmental changes to engage community members in park-based physical activity.

Authors: 
CL Schultz, SA Wilhelm Stanis, SP Sayers, LA Thombs, & IM Thomas
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The 2016 Active Living Research Conference: Equity in Active Living

Date: 
02/01/2017
Description: 

Keith, N.R., Baskin, M.L., Wilhelm Stanis, S.A., & Sallis, J.F. (2017). The 2016 Active Living Research Conference: Equity in Active Living. Prev Med. 95(Suppl), S1-S3.

Authors: 
NR Keith, ML Baskin, SA Wilhelm Stanis, & JF Sallis
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Effects of a Facilitated Fee Waiver Program on Participation in Youth Sports Programs

Date: 
08/01/2016
Description: 

Berk, M. & Moon, M.M. (2016). Effects of a Facilitated Fee Waiver Program on Participation in Youth Sports Programs. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 34(3).

Abstract: 

Registration fees can be an economic barrier to participation in public youth sports programs. While some programs offer to waive the registration fee, many do not, and those that do require that parents provide income documentation during the registration process in order to obtain the waiver. This requirement may discourage waiver applications that, in turn, may reduce participation by low-income children. This article describes the results of a demonstration program that allowed parents to obtain a youth sports programs registration fee waiver through a simple request, without demonstrating need. The demonstration found that a “facilitated waiver program” had a dramatic effect on waiver applications; a twelvefold increase was observed. Waiver applications increased the most among children attending schools in low-income neighborhoods. Those who requested waivers had strong attendance records at games and practices in the programs, and parental support was also high. Despite the benefits of facilitated waivers, however, their use alone is not sufficient to overcome the range of economic barriers to participation in youth sports programs.

A Summary of Findings from this paper is also available.

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Cost Analysis for Improving Park Facilities to Promote Park-based Physical Activity

Date: 
12/16/2015
Description: 

Floyd, M.F., Suau, L.J., Layton, R., Maddock, J.E., & Bitsura-Meszaros, K. (2015). Cost Analysis for Improving Park Facilities to Promote Park-based Physical Activity. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina State University, NC Cooperative Extension Resources.

Abstract: 

Because public parks are widely available in communities across the country, parks are recognized as important environments for promoting active lifestyles. A growing number of studies suggest that parks contribute significantly to physical activity among adults and children. Research conducted in parks demonstrates that particular areas within parks produce more activity than others. Results from these kinds of studies have inspired researchers to more closely examine the potential of parks to promote physical activity. These examinations use intervention studies and natural experiments. In these studies, researchers are able to obtain baseline measures on park use and activity in a park before an improvement occurs and compare the measures to data obtained following the improvement. Such comparisons evaluate the extent to which park facilities encourage increased use and activity levels. Studies of this kind show promising results. In general, parks are used more often and users are more active following improvements or renovations.

Translating this research evidence to on-the-ground planning and construction inevitably shifts the discussion to financial considerations. What are the financial costs of adding or maintaining new facilities that could increase use and activity? What are the life span costs relative to increased use and additional physical activity? Answers to such questions can provide objective information to park officials, policymakers, and citizens to help them make more informed decisions about park facilities construction to promote active lifestyles. Park and recreation agencies at all levels of government are challenged now more than ever to provide high quality services in a fiscally conservative environment. As public parks and recreation facilities are increasingly positioned as health resources, greater demands for providing and using parks are expected. Park improvement projects with the stated purpose of encouraging activity need to be supported by data on the financial costs associated with making such improvements.

The goal of this analysis is to provide realistic and objective estimates of costs of providing park facilities that can increase physical activity.

This report was funded by Active Living Research through a Commissioned Analysis Report.

Authors: 
Myron F. Floyd, Luis J. Suau, Robby Layton, Jay E. Maddock, & Karly Bitsura-Meszaros
Organization: 
North Carolina State University
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