Neighborhood Poverty, Park Use, and Park-Based Physical Activity in a Southern California City

Published In: Social Science & Medicine, v. 75, no.12, Dec. 2012, p. 2317-2325

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2012

by Deborah A. Cohen, Bing Han, Kathryn Pitkin Derose, Stephanie Williamson, Terry Marsh, Jodi Rudick, Thomas L. McKenzie

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A rich literature indicates that individuals of lower socio-economic status engage in less leisure time physical activity than individuals of higher socio-economic status. However, the source of the difference is believed to be, in part, due to differential access to resources that support physical activity. However, it has not been shown as to whether equal access to parks can mitigate differences in leisure time physical activity. Using systematic direct observation, we quantified physical activity in neighborhood parks in a large Southern California city located in areas with high, medium, and a low percentage of households in poverty. We documented how neighborhood parks are managed and programmed and also interviewed both a sample of park users and a random sample of households within a mile radius of the parks. We found that parks are used less in high-poverty areas compared to medium- and low-poverty area parks, even after accounting for differences in size, staffing, and programming. The strongest correlates of park use were the number of part time staff, the number of supervised and organized programs, and knowing the park staff. Perceptions of safety were not relevant to park use among those interviewed in the park, however it had a small relationship with reported frequency of park use among local residents. Among park users, time spent watching electronic media was negatively correlated with the frequency of visiting the park. Future research should test whether increasing park staffing and programming will lead to increased park use in high-poverty neighborhoods.

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