Quantifying the Contribution of Neighborhood Parks to Physical Activity

Published In: Preventive Medicine, v. 57, no. 5, Nov. 2013, p. 483-487

Posted on RAND.org on August 01, 2013

by Bing Han, Deborah Cohen, Thomas L. McKenzie

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Research Questions

  1. How many hours of physical activity are spent in U.S. neighborhood parks each week?
  2. How much of this activity includes moderate-to-vigorous exercise?
  3. What is the contribution of neighborhood parks to local residents' moderate-to-vigorous physical activity?

OBJECTIVE: To quantify the contribution of U.S. neighborhood parks to the time spent in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) by the local population. METHODS: Observational data on the use of 10 parks in five US cities collected during summer and fall 2008 were analyzed by a model-averaging approach. Estimated MVPA time accrued in parks was compared to estimated total MVPA time accrued by the local population, based upon national estimates. RESULTS: On average, parks provided roughly 4000 hours of use and 1500 MVPA hours per week. Park use accounted for approximately 50% of the vigorous physical activity (VPA) time of those living within 0.5 miles of the park and 16% of those living within 1.0 miles of the park. Parks accounted for a modest proportion of moderate physical activity (MPA) time, about 14% and 4% for those living within 0.5 miles and 1.0 miles of the park, respectively. CONCLUSION: Parks have significant roles in supporting vigorous physical activity of the local population. Because they are underutilized and vigorous activity is critical to child development and adult physical fitness, efforts should be made to promote vigorous activity within local parks.

Key Findings

  • On average, parks provided roughly 4,000 hours of use per week.
  • Of these hours, 1,500 hours per week were spent in moderate-to-vigorous exercise.
  • Park use accounted for approximately 50 percent of the vigorous physical activity time of those living within 0.5 miles of the park and 16 percent of those living within 1.0 miles of the park.
  • Parks accounted for a modest proportion of moderate physical activity time: about 14 percent and four percent for those living within 0.5 miles and 1.0 miles of the park, respectively.

Recommendation

  • Because parks play a significant role in supporting vigorous physical activity among the local population, local government and community stakeholders should increase efforts to promote activity in neighborhood parks.

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