Impact and Cost-Effectiveness of Family Fitness Zones

A Natural Experiment in Urban Public Parks

Published in: Health & Place, v. 18, no. 1, Jan. 2012, p. 39-45

Posted on on January 01, 2012

by Deborah A. Cohen, Terry Marsh, Stephanie Williamson, Daniela Golinelli

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Research Questions

  1. Does outdoor exercise equipment in parks increase park use?
  2. Does equipment in parks increase energy expenditure?

We evaluated the impact of outdoor exercise equipment (FZ, Fitness Zones) in 12 parks serving diverse populations. We used the System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC) to assess use and estimate energy expenditure prior to and twice after FZ installation. Park use increased more in FZ parks than in 10 control parks that did not get equipment, but the difference was not statistically significant. However, self-reports of being a new park user increased more in FZ parks, and estimated energy expenditure in FZ parks was higher at both follow-ups than at baseline. Installing Fitness Zones appears to be cost-effective (10.5 cents/MET increase) and most successful in parks in densely populated areas with limited facilities. Longer-term follow-up measures are needed to determine if the early increases in physical activity associated with the Fitness Zone installations are sustained.

Key Findings

Overall park usage is unchanged...

  • Use of parks with and without outdoor exercise equipment did not differ significantly.

...but the users and how they use the parks differ.

  • Significantly more individuals reported that they were new park users.
  • Estimated energy expenditure was higher in parks with the outdoor equipment.


More study is needed to find long-rerm effects.

  • Longer-term follow-up measures are needed to determine if the increases in physical activity associated with the outdoor equipment are sustained over time.

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