Contribution of Public Parks to Physical Activity

Published in: American Journal of Public Health, v. 97, no. 3, Mar. 1, 2007, p. 509-514

Posted on RAND.org on March 01, 2007

by Deborah A. Cohen, Thomas L. McKenzie, Amber Sehgal, Stephanie Williamson, Daniela Golinelli, Nicole Lurie

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OBJECTIVES: Parks provide places for people to experience nature, engage in physical activity, and relax. The authors studied how residents in low-income, minority communities use neighborhood parks and how parks contribute to physical activity. METHODS: In 8 public parks, the authors used direct observation to document the number, gender, race/ethnicity, age group, and activity level of park users 4 times per day, 7 days per week. The authors also interviewed 713 park users and 605 area residents living within 2 miles of each park. RESULTS: On average, over 2000 individuals were counted in each park, and about two thirds were sedentary when observed. More males than females used the parks, and males were twice as likely to be vigorously active. Interviewees identified the park as the most common place they exercised. Both park use and exercise levels of individuals were predicted by proximity of their residence to the park. CONCLUSION: Public parks are critical resources for physical activity in minority communities. Because residential proximity is strongly associated with physical activity and park use, the number and location of parks are currently insufficient to serve local populations well.

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