One of the ways urban parks can benefit children is by providing an environment for increased physical activity. To what extent and under what conditions parks actually serve this purpose is somewhat unclear. This study examined the associations of park and neighborhood environments with park-based physical activity (PA) among children in Hong Kong. It also examined the moderating effect of neighborhood income in their relationships.
Researchers accessed information from the 2011 Hong Kong Population Census regarding the location of parks in the city, the walkability of the neighborhoods in which the parks were located, and the neighborhood social-economic status (SES). They then conducted observations of 7753 children (age 0-12) in 32 urban parks randomly selected from four walkability-by-SES categories: high SES/high walkability, high SES/low walkability, low SES/high walkability, and low SES/low walkability). Each category included eight parks. The observations were conducted at different times of the day and week by trained observers over a period of about nine months. Systematic observational tools were used to assess children's park-based PA (SOPARC) and the environmental characteristics of the park. Information about neighborhood quality as related to population density, land use mix, and intersection density, and aesthetics (e.g. excessive litter) was based on geographic information system data.
Observation results showed that park-based PA among children varied across the 32 urban parks in Hong Kong. Factors positively influencing children's park-based PA include quality of amenities (drinking fountains, picnic tables, toilets, etc.), park safety, neighborhood walkability, and neighborhood quality. Park size and the diversity of active facilities in the park (i.e., activity areas used for sports games or active recreation) did not make a significant difference on children's park-based PA. Neighborhood socioeconomic status significantly moderated the associations between park-based PA with the diversity of active facilities, quality of supporting amenities, neighborhood walkability, and neighborhood quality. For children living in low-income areas, neighborhood walkability, quality and different PA facilities were more positively associated with park-based PA than park size and aesthetics. For children living in high-income neighborhoods, the quality of park amenities played a larger role in determining their active park use.
While longitudinal and experimental studies are needed to establish causal understandings about the impacts of park and neighborhood environments on children's park-based PA, city planners may find the results of this study helpful in prioritizing park-related initiatives.