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Contributions of Non-Urban State Parks to Youth Physical Activity: A Case Study in Northern Georgia

Lincoln R. Larson, Jason R. Whiting, Gary T. Green, J. M. Bowker


A growing body of research has documented

positive relationships among youth physical activity levels and park use.

However, most investigations to date have focused on municipal parks, and

relatively little is known about the physical activity levels of racially and

ethnically diverse populations of youth using different types of parks in nonurban

settings. This exploratory case study addressed these research gaps by

examining the influence of non-urban state parks on the physical activity of 

youth in northern Georgia, USA. Data were collected via intercept surveys of

parents/guardians (who served as proxies and provided information about youth

in their visitor group/family) visiting three state parks (n = 677, summer 2010)

and nine park-proximate flea markets (n = 268, summer 2011). Flea markets were

selected as a comparative study site to assess the relative contributions of state

parks to youth physical activity because they provided unique access to large

numbers of low-income, racial/ethnic minority children and adolescents from

the general population who may or may not visit state parks. Intercept survey

instruments assessed multiple variables including overall youth physical activity

levels, park-based physical activity, activity correlates, and frequency of use for

different physical activity locations (including state parks). Results showed that

most youth (88%) participated in at least one hour of physical activity during

state park visits. Participation rates for specific activities varied by demographic 

group. Park-based physical activity correlates included race/ethnicity (with

Latinos less active than other groups), parent perceptions of health-related

benefits (positive relationship to physical activity), and youth participation in

socially oriented activities (positive relationship to physical activity). Though

youth were generally very active during state park visits, few youth (28%)

visited the focal parks on a monthly or weekly basis, and even fewer in the

flea market sample (22%) visited any Georgia state park often or very often.

Local environments such as homes/backyards (used often or very often by 83%

of youth) and neighborhood sidewalks and streets (58%) were more frequently

used physical activity locations. Overall, this study revealed high levels of youth

physical activity during visits to non-urban state parks. Park-based physical

activity levels and activity preferences differed by demographic group. Results

suggested that park-based physical activity among all groups of youth could be

enhanced by management approaches that foster inter-generational interactions

and create opportunities for active, adult-mediated, child-centered recreational

pursuits. Findings also showed that state parks may be less important than

other recreation destinations for promoting the physical activity of youth from

non-urban settings. Efforts to encourage youth physical activity outside of

urban areas should therefore emphasize a range of family-friendly recreation

options and locations (including, but not limited to state parks) that account for

the diverse recreation preferences of children and their parents. For park and

recreation practitioners, ongoing efforts to monitor perceptions about parks

and recreational services may provide insightful information about to whom

to promote use of parks, trails, and other outdoor recreation areas. Examining

differences within subgroups across time can help to identify potential priority

populations to address in efforts to increase PA and encourage ORA use which in

turn may address health disparities and improve public health.


children; parks; physical activity; race/ethnicity; recreation

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