The Prevalence and Use of Walking Loops in Neighborhood Parks

A National Study

Published in: Environmental Health Perspectives, 2016

Posted on RAND.org on September 22, 2016

by Deborah Cohen, Bing Han, Kelly R. Evenson, Catherine J. Nagel, Thomas L. McKenzie, Terry Marsh, Stephanie Williamson, Peter Harnik

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Background

Previous studies indicate that the design of streets and sidewalks can influence physical activity among residents. Park features also influence park use and park-based physical activity. Although individuals can walk on streets and sidewalks, walking loops in parks offer a setting to walk in nature and to avoid interruptions from traffic.

Objectives

To describe the use of walking loops in parks and compare the number of park users and their physical activity in urban neighborhood parks with and without walking loops.

Methods

We analyzed data from the National Study of Neighborhood Parks in which a representative sample of neighborhood parks (N=174) from 25 US cities >100,000 population were observed systematically to document facilities and park users by age group and gender. We compared the number of people and their physical activity in parks with and without walking loops, controlling for multiple factors, including park size, facilities and population density.

Results

Overall, compared to parks without walking loops, on average during an hourly observation, parks with walking loops had 80% more users (95% CI: 42%-139%) and levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity were 90% higher. (95% CI: 49%-145%). The additional park use and park-based physical activity occurred not only on the walking loops but throughout the park.

Conclusions

Walking loops may be a promising means of increasing population level physical activity. Further studies are needed to confirm a causal relationship.

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