Associations between Park Facilities, User Demographics, and Physical Activity Levels at San Diego County Parks


  • Stephanie T. Child University of South Carolina
  • Thomas L. McKenzie San Diego State University
  • Elva M. Arredondo San Diego State University
  • John P. Elder San Diego State University
  • Suzanna M. Martinez San Diego State University
  • Guadalupe X. Ayala San Diego State University


community parks, Latinos, park facilities, physical activity


Public parks, often underutilized resources for physical activity (PA), are critical for low-income and otherwise disadvantaged communities (Cohen et al., 2013). Although several studies have examined the association of parks with PA at a macro level (i.e., size and proximity), fewer investigations have examined these associations with park facilities, especially within Latino communities (Casper & Harrolle, 2013). This paper explores the relationship between specific park facilities and observed park use and PA levels. While the size and locations of parks are relatively unmodifiable characteristics, the type and characteristics of facilities available within parks are modifiable \ features that can be targeted to promote and increase PA within communities. Trained observers used SOPARC (System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities) to assess user characteristics (i.e., age, gender, PA levels), facility/area types (e.g., tennis courts, baseball fields) and their characteristics (e.g., accessibility, usability) in eight parks located in predominantly Latino communities in South San Diego County, California. The findings shed light on park facility characteristics, and park use and PA levels in Latino communities. Some facilities (e.g., baseball fields) attracted large numbers of sedentary visitors, while others (e.g., fitness rooms) promoted higher PA levels. There was limited availability and access to facilities (i.e., fitness rooms and pools) that supported both high levels of PA and use by females and seniors. Increased access to these facilities may encourage park use and activity among those less likely to engage in PA. Females were generally less physically active than males. Data revealed gender differences were greater in some target areas than others, suggesting that specific facility types may be more favorable for promoting PA among females. Parks play a pivotal role in promoting population level PA in low-income communities. For park and recreation practitioners, our results confirm that facility types play differential roles in attracting park users and promoting PA. These data could be used to leverage funding for personnel, programming, and enhancing and maintaining facilities that support PA among Latino communities.





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