While Americans struggle to meet national guidelines for physical activity, new research shows that neighborhood parks continue to be underused by certain demographics, highlighting an untapped potential for the role of parks in contributing to the health of U.S. citizens.
Dr. Kelly Evenson, professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health, is lead author of the paper, “United States’ neighborhood park use and physical activity over two years: The National Study of Neighborhood Parks,” was published online March 27 in Preventive Medicine.
It is the first observational study of national city park visitors, using an approach that offers a more complete understanding of how Americans use their neighborhood parks. The study was conducted in collaboration with the RAND Corporation and was supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Observing a national sample of 168 city parks at two points in time (April to August 2014 and April to July 2016), the team visited parks and used a research tool to describe park conditions and accessibility as well as how individuals use parks.
In both time periods, the most commonly observed activity was sitting, and almost two-thirds of park users at both time periods were observed being sedentary. Also significant were the differences in who uses parks, said Dr. Evenson.
“We found persistent differences in park use by gender and age, with disproportionately more male than female users from every age group, such as child, teenager, adult or older adult, using parks,” said Dr. Evenson. “Older adults used the park less than all other age groups.”Friday Letter Submission