Research Summary

Park use and physical activity among mostly low-to-middle income, minority parents and their children

Parks can support physical activity of ethnically and economically diverse families

Journal of Physical Activity and Health

This study examined park use and non-use among ethnically and economically diverse families living in a large US city. The study was based on the understanding that information about current park use could inform future efforts promoting the use of parks for physical activity.

A total of 326 parents completed a questionnaire about their family park use and their children’s physical activity. Items on the questionnaire asked respondents (1) if they had visited a city park in the prior 6 months with their child(ren), (2) which parks they visited, and (3) if they did not visit a park, reasons for not doing so. The questionnaire was also used to collect demographic and home address information, as well as information about children’s habitual physical activity. Other objective measures were used to assess the distance from respondents’ home address to the nearest park and the number of activity features (e.g., playgrounds, jogging paths) in the parks.

Most respondents (87.6%) reported park use with their child(ren) within the past 6 months. The non-park users cited “too far away” (11.6%) and “no features/equipment” (88.4%) as reasons why they did not use the parks. Objective data, however, indicated that there was no significant difference in distance to the nearest park between respondents who did and did not report “too far away” as a barrier. The most often visited parks were larger and had a greater number of activity features than the less often visited parks. Walking was the most common activity engaged in by parents while in the parks. Children engaging in sufficient physical activity tended to be from families who used the parks and who visited a greater number of parks.

Other research studies have identified parks as an important support for physical activity. This study adds to the research by demonstrating that previous findings apply to ethnically and economically diverse families. This study also suggests that parks might best support physical activity for families when activity features are carefully planned and equitably distributed across parks.