OBJECTIVES: To determine if neighbourhood socio-economic status (SES) is associated with park use and park-based physical activity. STUDY DESIGN: Cross-sectional study. METHODS: The use and characteristics of 24 neighbourhood parks in Albuquerque, Chapel Hill/Durham, Columbus and Philadelphia were observed systematically in three seasons (spring, summer and autumn), with nearly 36,000 park users observed. Twelve parks were in high-poverty neighbourhoods and 12 parks were in low-poverty neighbourhoods. In total, 3559 park users and 3815 local residents were surveyed. Park incivilities were assessed and park administrators were interviewed about management practices. RESULTS: The size and number of facilities in parks in high-poverty neighbourhoods were similar to those in parks in low-poverty neighbourhoods, but the former had more hours of programming. Neighbourhood poverty level, perception of safety and the presence of incivilities were not associated with the number of park users observed. However, programmed activities and the number of activity facilities were strongly correlated with park use and energy expended in the park. CONCLUSIONS: The finding that park programming is the most important correlate of park use and park-based physical activity suggests that there are considerable opportunities for facilitating physical activity among populations of both high- and low-poverty areas.

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