Extensive research has documented the significant health benefits of physical activity as a key to everything from reducing obesity and chronic disease to improving mental health for both children and adults. Yet, only 21 percent of American youth meet daily physical activity guidelines, and just 22.9 percent of adults over 18 meet guidelines for aerobic and muscle strengthening activities. One solution to this has been to provide and enrich green spaces in communities around the country to encourage people to use them as environments for walking, running, playing, and other activities.
[Photo: Dr. Gina Lovasi]
This approach may only be effective, it seems, if urban planners and researchers pay close attention to certain characteristics of outdoor spaces. A new study, co-authored by Dr. Gina Lovasi, co-director of the Urban Health Collaborative and Dornsife associate professor of urban health at the Drexel University Dornsife School of Public Health, and Mr. Dustin Fry, a doctoral fellow in Dornsife’s department of epidemiology and biostatistics, found that a broad range of factors, including neighborhood context, types of park features, and condition and cleanliness can not only impact park usage, but also the physical activity levels of the people who visit the space.
A research team based at North Carolina State University, along with Dr. Lovasi and Mr. Fry, examined whether weekday park usage and physical activity differed by race and ethnicity across numerous categories of park features. They captured the number of users and physical activity levels within 167 park features in 20 parks in low-income neighborhoods in New York City between April and August 2017. Audits of park environments assessed the type, condition, and cleanliness of all features and amenities. Usage and physical activity levels differed across types of park features, with playgrounds, basketball courts, and swing sets having the greatest proportion of active users. High usage of playgrounds was consistent among children of all racial groups, while basketball courts were especially popular among Asian and African-American children.
Marquet, Oriol, J. Aaron Hipp, Claudia Alberico, Jing-Huei Huang, Dustin Fry, Elizabeth Mazak, Gina S. Lovasi, and Myron F. Floyd. “Park use preferences and physical activity among ethnic minority children in low-income neighborhoods in New York City.” Urban Forestry & Urban Greening (2019).