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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Columbia Reports Park Features Associated with Body Mass Index

The size and cleanliness of a neighborhood park has a strong association to the body mass index (BMI) of the neighborhood’s residents, according to research by Dr. Andrew Rundle, associate professor of epidemiology, and Dr. Gina Lovasi, assistant professor of epidemiology, at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, and colleagues. Findings are published online in the journal, Preventive Medicine.

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[Photo: Dr. Andrew Rundle (left) and Dr. Gina Lovasi]

Up until now, little had been known about whether park size or facilities are associated with BMI or obesity of local area residents. In addition, although qualitative studies have documented concerns about poor park maintenance, prior research provided no evidence about the relationship between park cleanliness and weight outcomes.

To fill this gap, the current study examined whether proximity to parks, larger park size, the presence of recreational facilities and park cleanliness were associated with objectively measured BMI for a large and diverse sample of adults in New York City. For their analysis, the researchers used self-reported height and weight data from the Community Health Survey in New York City (2002-2006), a telephone survey of adults 18 years and older conducted annually by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Detailed measures of park cleanliness and facilities were collected by the New York City Parks and Recreation Department. After adjusting for characteristics like neighborhood safety and walkability, they found that residents with larger and cleaner parks near their homes had lower BMI values.

The results showed that almost all study subjects (99 percent) lived within a half mile of at least one park. However, there was more variation among study subjects in proximity to large parks, in the cleanliness of nearby parks, and in the number of nearby recreational facilities. Only 68 percent of study subjects lived in neighborhoods with large parks.

“As urban planners and public health officials consider ways to enhance and design neighborhoods, efforts should be given to creating safe and clean physical activity environments that encourage use among nearby residents,” said Drs. Rundle and Lovasi.

The study was supported by National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences grant 5R01ES014229 and National institute of Child Health and Human Development grant K01HD067390.

Read more: Built Environment and Health Research Group at Columbia’s Mailman School.

Video interview with Dr. Rundle on study findings: