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Outdoor Recreation Availability, Physical Activity, and Health Outcomes: County-Level Analysis in Minnesota

Andrew Oftedal, Ingrid E. Schneider


Despite pervasive beliefs about the association between outdoor recreation and positive health outcomes, empirical evidence remains largely inconclusive. Past research has focused primarily on the individual and community level and revealed both strong connections between physical activity and health and proximity to public parks predict physical activity levels. Evidence connecting outdoor recreation opportunities directly with specific health outcomes (e.g., weight status, diabetes, mental health), however, is limited. Furthermore, only a handful of studies explores connections between outdoor recreation opportunities and health at macro levels (e.g., across states, counties, or metropolitan areas). Macro-level studies to date have limited analysis to physical activity and obesity rates, despite the wide range of benefits associated with physical activity. This study expands the macro-level understanding of the connection between the availability of outdoor recreation, physical activity, and health by using a typology of recreation opportunities and analyzing a wider range of health outcomes at a county level in the U.S. state of Minnesota. Results suggest that although parkland and nonmotorized trails significantly and positively associate with increased physical activity and lower obesity rates, most other health associations remain insignificant when controlling for select sociodemographic characteristics. Results imply the importance of readily available recreation opportunities in fostering physically active lifestyles, suggest a larger variety of recreation indicators be included in future analysis and inventories, and highlight opportunities for public lands to encourage and promote physical activity.



Physical activity; obesity; public health; county-level analysis; recreation typology

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