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Demographic Differences in Perceptions of Outdoor Recreation Areas Across a Decade

Stephanie Child, Andrew T. Kaczynski, Patricia A. Sharpe, Sara Wilcox, Danielle E. Schoffman, Melinda Forthofer, Andrew J. Mowen, Daheia J. Barr-Anderson


Outdoor recreation areas (ORAs) are key

components of healthy communities and are linked with health behaviors, such

as physical activity (PA). One way to promote greater use of ORAs, such as

trails and parks, may be to increase awareness and improve perceptions of these

spaces as safe, low-cost resources for PA. However, relatively few studies have

examined the role of awareness of and perceptions about places to be active

in ORA use, and even fewer have explored temporal changes in these factors

within entire populations. Hence, this study examined differences that occurred

across a decade and within demographic subgroups concerning awareness of,

perceptions about, and use of ORAs in a Southeastern county. Cross-sectional

telephone surveys with independent samples completed in 2000 (n = 1,055) and

2011 (n = 1,011) assessed respondents' perceptions of ORAs, PA levels, and

demographic information. Logistic regression analyses and interaction models

were used to examine changes in multiple outcome variables across time by

demographic subgroups. Awareness of ORAs, perceived safety, and reported

use of ORAs were associated with age, race, gender, and education level. Overall

awareness of and perceptions about safety and the number of opportunities to be

active improved between 2000 and 2011. However, more marked improvements

were observed for some demographic groups than for others. Interaction models

revealed awareness improved over time for Whites and for younger adults, while

perceptions of safety improved among residents who were less educated and

those who did not meet PA recommendations. The ORA use declined among

females, but increased among males. Results suggested that promotion efforts

may need to be directed toward minority populations and that safety may

still be a theme to address in ORA use, especially among individuals who are

already active elsewhere. 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.


awareness; outdoor recreation areas; parks; perceptions; physical activity; safety; trails

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