Physical Activity Surveillance in Parks Using Direct Observation

Published in: Preventing Chronic Disease, v. 11, Jan. 2014, p. 1-9

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2014

by Phillip Ward, Thomas L. McKenzie, Deborah Cohen, Kelly R. Evenson, Daniela Golinelli, Amy Hillier, Sandra Lapham, Stephanie Williamson

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INTRODUCTION: Primary features of observational public health surveillance instruments are that they are valid, can reliably estimate physical activity behaviors, and are useful across diverse geographic settings and seasons by different users. Previous studies have reported the validity and reliability of Systematic Observation of Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC) to estimate park and user characteristics. The purpose of this investigation was to establish the use of SOPARC as a surveillance instrument and to situate the findings from the study in the context of the previous literature. METHODS: We collected data by using SOPARC for more than 3 years in 4 locations: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Columbus, Ohio; Chapel Hill/Durham, North Carolina; and Albuquerque, New Mexico during spring, summer, and autumn. RESULTS: We observed a total of 35,990 park users with an overall observer reliability of 94% (range, 85%–99%) conducted on 15% of the observations. We monitored the proportion of park users engaging in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) and found marginal differences in MVPA by both city and season. Park users visited parks significantly more on weekend days than weekdays and visitation rates tended to be lower during summer than spring. CONCLUSION: SOPARC is a highly reliable observation instrument that can be used to collect data across diverse geographic settings and seasons by different users and has potential as a surveillance system.

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