Cover: Public Parks and Physical Activity Among Adolescent Girls

Public Parks and Physical Activity Among Adolescent Girls

Published in: Pediatrics, v. 118, no. 5, Nov. 2006, p. E1381-E13899

by Deborah Cohen, J. Scott Ashwood, Molly M. Scott, Adrian Overton, Kelly R. Evenson, Lisa K. Staten, Dwayne Porter, Thomas L. McKenzie, Diane Catellier

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Abstract

OBJECTIVES: Physical activity may be constrained or facilitated by local environments. The availability of neighborhood facilities for physical activity may be particularly relevant for youth, who are unable to drive and whose activity is often limited to the immediate distance they are able to walk or bicycle. Several studies have shown that proximity to recreational facilities and parks is one of the most important predictors of physical activity. Because the United States already has an extensive infrastructure of parks, with 70% of adults indicating that they live within walking distance of a park or playground, parks may be a potential venue for increasing physical activity. This might be particularly important for adolescent girls, whose physical activity levels decline substantially as they go through puberty. The goal of this study was to examine the association between park proximity, park type, and park features and physical activity in adolescent girls. PATIENTS AND METHODS: This was a cross-sectional study using baseline data from the Trial of Activity for Adolescent Girls. It included 1556 grade 6 girls who were randomly selected from 6 middle schools in each of the following 6 field site areas: Washington, DC, and Baltimore, Maryland; Columbia, South Carolina; Minneapolis, Minnesota; New Orleans, Louisiana; Tucson, Arizona; and San Diego, California. Girls wore accelerometers for 6 days to measure metabolic equivalent-weighted moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, a measure accounting for the volume and intensity of activity. Metabolic equivalent-weighted moderate-to-vigorous physical activity was calculated for the hours outside of school time using 2 different cutpoints, activity levels > or = 3.0 metabolic equivalents and > or = 4.6 metabolic equivalents, the latter indicating activity at the intensity of a brisk walk or higher. We mapped all of the parks within 1 mile of each girl's home. Trained staff used a checklist to document the presence of facilities and amenities at each park, including passive amenities, such as drinking fountains, restrooms, and areas with shade, as well as active amenities like basketball courts, multipurpose fields, playgrounds, and tennis courts. RESULTS: Mean nonschool metabolic equivalent-weighted moderate/vigorous physical activity, using the 4.6 metabolic equivalent cutoff, was 611.1 minutes (range: 49.7-4718.6 metabolic equivalent minutes per 6 days) and 1704.8 metabolic equivalent minutes per 6 days (range: 276.2-5792.6 metabolic equivalent minutes per 6 days) when using the 3.0 metabolic equivalent cutpoint. Many girls had multiple parks within a 1-mile radius of their homes: 57% had > or = 1 type of park, the majority being neighborhood or community parks; 42% had between 1 and 3 parks, 37% had > or = 4 parks, and 14% had > or = 8 parks. The type, number, and specific parks features were associated with girls' nonschool metabolic equivalent-weighted moderate/vigorous physical activity. At the 4.6 metabolic equivalent cutpoint, higher levels of nonschool metabolic equivalent-weighted moderate/vigorous physical activity were associated with both neighborhood and community parks (22 metabolic equivalent minutes) and miniparks (40 metabolic equivalent minutes). Each park, regardless of type, in the half-mile around each girl's home was associated with an increase in nonschool metabolic equivalent-weighted moderate/vigorous physical activity by 2.8% or 17.2 nonschool minutes of metabolic equivalent-weighted moderate/vigorous physical activity per 6 days. Beyond a half-mile, each park increased nonschool metabolic equivalent-weighted moderate/vigorous physical activity by 1.1% or 6.7 metabolic equivalent minutes per 6 days. For the average girl with 3.5 parks within a 1-mile radius of home, the presence of parks accounted for 36.5 extra nonschool metabolic equivalent minutes per 6 days, approximately 6% of total nonschool metabolic equivalent-weighted moderate/vigorous physical activity. Using the 3.0 metabolic equivalent cutpoint, this sums to an additional 68 metabolic equivalent minutes of nonschool metabolic equivalent-weighted moderate/vigorous physical activity over 6 days, or 4% of the total. The most common amenities in the parks were playgrounds, multipurpose fields, and picnic areas. Slightly more than one third of girls lived within a half-mile of a park with a basketball court, and > 20% had access to walking paths and tennis courts in their local park. Higher levels of nonschool metabolic equivalent-weighted moderate/vigorous physical activity per 6 days were associated with walking paths (13 metabolic equivalent minutes), running tracks (82 metabolic equivalent minutes), playgrounds (28 metabolic equivalent minutes), and basketball courts (30 metabolic equivalent minutes). Parks with streetlights and floodlights were also associated with an increase of 18 and 22 minutes of nonschool metabolic equivalent-weighted moderate/vigorous physical activity, respectively. With the 3.0 metabolic equivalent cutoff for metabolic equivalent-weighted moderate/vigorous physical activity, additional nonschool metabolic equivalent minutes more than doubled when girls had miniparks (92 metabolic equivalent minutes), natural resource areas (36 metabolic equivalent minutes), walking paths (59 metabolic equivalent minutes), and running tracks (208 metabolic equivalent minutes) within a half-mile of their homes. Skateboard areas and special-use parks were negatively associated with nonschool metabolic equivalent-weighted moderate/vigorous physical activity in adolescent girls. CONCLUSIONS: Adolescent girls who live near more parks, particularly near those with amenities that are conducive to walking and with active features, engage in more nonschool metabolic equivalent-weighted moderate/vigorous physical activity than those with fewer parks. Whether this is because of actual use of the parks or neighborhood choice could not be determined. Although the magnitude of the association between parks and additional minutes of metabolic equivalent-weighted moderate/vigorous physical activity was small for an individual, amounting to an average of 4%-6% of a girl's total nonschool metabolic equivalent-weighted moderate/vigorous physical activity, it is likely to have a large population-level association. Because of the potential population level impact, the use of parks to promote physical activity should be further studied.

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