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Physical Activity Outcomes Associated with African American Park Visitation in Four Community Parks

Kindal A. Shores, Stephanie T. West


African Americans have a higher risk of almost all diet and fitness-related diseases, including heart disease, high blood pressure, type II diabetes, obesity, and cancer (Thomas et al., 2005; Ward et al., 2004; Young, Maynard, & Boyko, 2003). While these risks can be reduced with diet and exercise, private facilities may be inaccessible to African Americans, who as a population, average significantly lower salaries than Whites ("State and County Quick Facts", 2004). Since the relationship of physical activity participation and beneficial health outcomes is well understood, this study investigated the potential of free, accessible parks to reduce the incidence of chronic disease through the facilitation of healthful physical activity.

The current study uses an ecological model of human behavior to investigate African American park visitation behavior and activity outcomes at four park sites. The purpose of the current study was twofold. First, we describe the outcomes of African American park visits. Then, we investigate the association of controllable site components, activity supervision, and organized activity to the type and intensity of recreation activities undertaken at four community park sites.

The System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC) (McKenzie, Cohen, & Sehgal, 2005) was used to evaluate physical activity undertaken at four parks in a mid-sized community in the eastern United States. Observations were made by two trained researchers during four time intervals (morning, lunch, afternoon, and evening) across all seven days of the week. Momentary sampling scans allowed observation of 2,113 park visitors, 811 (38%) of whom were African American. This was slightly higher than the proportion of African Americans in the local population (34%). Similar to the majority of park visitors who were White, the most frequently observed activities for African Americans were sitting, tennis, climbing/sliding, and picnicking. Participation by African Americans in moderate/vigorous activity (61.2%) was also equal to that of Whites. Regression analysis further indicated that 64.2% of the variance in physical activity intensity could be explained by the presence of site components including activity supervision, activity organization, provision of sport courts/fields, trails/paths, play structures, and (negatively) picnic shelters and grills.

The current study provides empirical evidence to support the belief that many practitioners have had for many years: Parks may be an ideal place for health promotion and lifestyle disease prevention to the extent that they support active visits. Findings also indicate that built features and structured recreation settings were associated with increased intensity of physical activity for all park visitors. In particular, site improvements were linked to physically active recreation among all African American visitors and youth, most notably. Findings from this and future studies could facilitate interventions in park design and park placement by government officials. For government officials who are mandated to meet resident needs, the provision of well-equipped parks is essential to the well being of racially and economically diverse communities.?


physical activity, activity promotion, health, benefits, parks, SOPARC, African Americans

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