Abstract P416: Prevalence and Correlates of Unused Park Areas in Four States
Background: Lack of physical activity is a growing problem both within the United States and globally, contributing to the obesity epidemic. Given the importance of social and environmental factors on physical activity, efforts are being made to improve the accessibility and quality of recreation areas. One important focus is public parks, which are usually free and often located within close proximity to residences. Although parks can support community physical activity, it is unknown which park areas are essentially unused and do not fulfill this objective.
Objective: To identify unused areas of parks and examine correlates of these areas, which can aid in park promotion, programming, and design.
Methods: Data on 24 parks in four municipalities in North Carolina, New Mexico, Ohio, and Pennsylvania were collected during 2008-2010 using the System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC). SOPARC is a validated momentary time sampling method for directly observing physical activity in pre-defined park target areas. Overall, the parks contained 719 target areas (range: 17-55 per park). Target areas were scanned 48 times (n=34,512 total scans) throughout the spring, summer, and fall on weekdays and weekends, and assigned codes reflecting their function (e.g., baseball field, playground). The relationship between the percent of scans in which a target area was vacant and the target area types was quantified with linear regression, controlling for park and state, yielding the mean difference between the target area type of interest and all other target areas.
Results: The 719 target areas were vacant a mean of 80.9% of scans (interquartile range: 72.9%, 98.8%) with 64 areas vacant during all scans. However, a few target areas had high use (10 were vacant ≤25% of scans). Parks in Ohio and Pennsylvania had areas with higher percentages of vacant scans as compared to North Carolina parks (difference (95% confidence interval [CI]): 16.5% (13.1, 19.9), 10.2% (6.9, 13.5) respectively). Areas adjacent to sports fields and courts were associated with vacant areas (difference (95% CI): 8.1% (3.7, 12.4)), even though fields and courts were not associated with vacant areas. Open grassy areas with no structured purpose (smaller than a multipurpose field, but large enough to support physical activity) were associated with vacant areas (difference (95% CI): 4.2% (1.0, 7.5)).
Conclusion: A large proportion of park areas potentially usable for physical activity were frequently vacant, indicating that improvements to park promotion, programming, and design may be needed to attract and engage more park users. Future research should examine these patterns in other areas as well as design and evaluate interventions that integrate park amenities and programs supportive of physical activity in low use areas.
- © 2013 by American Heart Association, Inc.