Research Study Abstract

A Preliminary Study of Park Availability, Awareness and Use in Children: Combining GIS, GPS, Accelerometer and Self-Report Methods

  • Presented on February 26 2013

Background and Purpose A growing body of research has linked children‘s physical activity to neighborhood built environmental characteristics. in particular, neighborhood parks and open spaces have garnered much research attention for the opportunities they provide children to engage in physical activity. Studies in this area typically investigate the availability of parks (e.g., number of parks) and access to parks (e.g., distance to closest park) in relation to children‘s total physical activity levels. However, research is lacking about the extent to which children are aware of and use parks in their neighborhoods. Presence of parks on infrequently traveled routes, poorly maintained park facilities, and safety concerns at parks may contribute to low awareness and use of the available parks in one‘s neighborhood. To date, few studies have systematically examined park awareness and use among children, as well as factors that may explain why park use is higher among some children than others.

Objectives To close these research gaps, the current study sampled children and parents living in urban sprawling areas of San Bernardino County, California to describe the proportions of (a) families with at least one park available within their neighborhood, (b) parents who were aware of those neighborhood parks, (c) children who used parks in their neighborhood, and (d) children who performed physical activity in those neighborhood parks. Research also examined how park features (i.e., distance to the nearest park and total neighborhood park area) are related to park use.

Methods Children (ages 8 – 14 years) wore an Actigraph accelerometer and GlobalSat BT-335 Global Positioning Systems (GPS) device to collect objective physical activity and geographic positioning data, respectively, using 30-second epochs across 7 days. Overnight hours (11pm-5am), school time (8am-2pm on weekdays), time spent in motorized transit (> 32 kph), and periods of accelerometer non-wear (> 60 minutes of consecutive 0 activity counts) were removed. Whether behavior could be classified as moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) was defined by age-specific thresholds for the accelerometer. A 500 meter Euclidian buffer was created around participants‘ residences. Using Geographic Information Systems (ArcGIS), ESRI Business Analyst park location data was used to identify available park spaces within the residential buffer and assign park use classification to GPS data points. Parents reported awareness of available park space by indicating on the Neighborhood Environment Walkability Survey (NEWS) whether there was park within a 20-minute walk of home. Logistic regression analyses tested whether distance to the nearest park and total neighborhood park area predicted the likelihood of neighborhood park use and park-based MVPA controlling for children‘s age, gender, race and household income.

Results After exclusions for missing data, the sample consisted of 135 parent-child pairs. Children were 50% female, 48% Hispanic, and 16% overweight or obese with a mean age of 11.2 years (SD = 1.4). GIS mapping indicated that 54% (n =73) of families had at least one park available within 500 meters of their geocoded home. Parent-report data from the NEWS survey indicated that 97% (n=71) of parents with an available park in their neighborhood were aware of it (reported a park <20 minute walk of home). Out of the 71 children whose parents were aware of their neighborhood park, GPS location data showed that 30% (n=21) used their available park space during the assessment week (> 5 minutes of GPS data within 10 meters of a neighborhood park space and > 1 minute of GPS data within that park space). of these 21 children who used a neighborhood park, 71% (n=15) engaged in at least 5 minutes of MVPA within the park space. Results further found that that for each 100 meter decrease in distance to nearest park, the odds of park use more than doubled (OR=2.34, 95% CI=1.30, 4.21) after controlling for children‘s age, gender, race and household income. Total neighborhood park area was not associated with park use. Further analysis found that a decrease of 100 meters distance to the nearest park was similarly associated with increased likelihood of children‘s engagement in > 5 minutes of MVPA at a park (OR=2.44, 95% CI=1.23, 4.82), and neighborhood park area was not associated with park-based MVPA.

Conclusions Although most families were aware of the existence of a park within their neighborhood, only about 20% of children performed at least 5 minutes of MVPA within a park during the week of study. The fact that the odds of park-based MVPA doubled when distance to the nearest park decreased by 100 meters underscores the importance of park proximity to facilitating greater use. This study also revealed that not all children who used parks actually engaged in MVPA at those locations. These findings suggest that programs and policies to promote park use should also consider strategies such as recreational offerings to encourage higher intensity activities at parks.

Support/Funding Source National Cancer Institute #R01-CA-123243 and the American Cancer Society 118283-MRSGT-10-012-01-CPPB.

Presented at

Active Living Research 2013 Annual Conference


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