Improving city parks may be one way to help make residents more active

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Helping residents become more physically fit, not just a walk in a park, or a team of Penn State researchers.

In a study, the researchers found that small improvements to the city's ParkScore-evaluation of a city's park-could lead to more physical exercise for its residents. The Trust for Public Land created the ParkScore as an index to rank the park systems of the nation's largest 100 cities, they added.

"What we found was that the higher the ParkScore – which is the better of the park system – the larger proportion of the population that was engaged in physical activity. "Lauren Mullenbach, a doctoral candidate in recreation, park and tourism management.

For example, the researchers said that a total increase of 420,003 residents in 2014 would mean an additional 2,688 people would engage in leisure-related physical activity.

Cities with parks that are more accessible, spacious and adequately funded rank higher on the list, according to Mullenbach. The top five cities on the list include Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota; Washington, D.C .; Arlington, Virginia, and San Francisco. Pennsylvania cities are the top third of the list. Pittsburgh is ranked at 23 and Philadelphia is placed at 30 on the list.

According to the researchers, who present their findings in the current issue of Preventing Chronic DiseaseCity planners do not need to undertake dramatic programs to improve their resident's physical activity.

"Cities could do their job, and some of the improvements are relatively straightforward," Mullenbach said. "They could spend more money on park or park programming, expand their park acreage, or they could increase access by putting in sidewalks to the parks, or adding a few more entrances."

The researchers combined three nationwide public data sets to study possible relationships between parks, health and physical activity levels in 59 American cities. They used data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's 500 Cities Project, the Trust for Public Land's City Park Facts Report and the U.S. Census Bureau.

"We've known for years that there are aspects of city park systems that link to health outcomes, but we've never had the data-the evidence to put this all together well," said Andrew Mowen, professor of recreation, park and tourism management, who worked with Mullenbach. "Lauren was able to do this all together with those data sets."

Part of the problem was that previous data could include data from suburban and county parks, according to the researchers.

"Normally, there's an effort from the center for Disease Control to collect health information about people on a yearly basis from different municipalities-a mix of both metro counties and non-metro counties-across the country and they aggregate that health data to the metropolitan statistical area, so that could include the city and surrounding suburbs, "said Mullenbach. "But, for this particular project, the CDC has received funding for aggregate data just to the city boundary level, which has never been done before."

While the researchers found that a good park system was positively related to the residents' physical health, the effect was not statistically significant when accounting for demographics and other lifestyle factors.

"This could be because so many other factors-smoking, access to health care, are essential to health, too, that parks, or can not affect," said Mowen.

In the future, the researchers would like to examine how investments in public and private sources may affect physical fitness and health. They can also be considered effective in the field of fundraising and funding for the quality and physical fitness and health.

"Another big message in this is that this is a collective effect," Mowen said. "It's not just the spending that planners have to work on, it's the collective of those factors that have that impact."

Birgitta L. Baker, associate professor or professor of recreation, park and tourism management, also worked on the study.

Explore further:
Park use influences perceived health, study shows

More information:
Lauren E. Mullenbach et al, Assessing the Relationship Between a Composite Score of Urban Park Quality and Health, Preventing Chronic Disease (2018). DOI: 10.5888 / pcd15.180033

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Pennsylvania State University