A Study of Community Design, Greenness, and Physical Activity in Children Using Satellite, GPS and Accelerometer Data

Many factors in the built environment work against people engaging in physical activity—traffic density and street design, safety issues, and access to green spaces and recreational resources. Integrating greenness—vegetation in walkways and parks—in community planning is believed to encourage physical activity.

The Health PLACES (Promoting Livable Active Community EnvironmentS), an ongoing study near Chino, Calif., looked at the connection between community design features and activity levels. Using portable global positioning systems (GPS) and accelerometers, families of one parent and one child were followed seven days each year for four years. Residents living in a “smart growth” community were compared to those in a nearby conventional community. Smart growth is a set of design principles to guide development of healthy, vibrant communities characterized by a sense of place. Previous research has found several smart growth principles to be associated with physical activity.

Children who experienced 20 or more minutes of daily exposure to greener spaces engaged in 4.7 times more moderately vigorous physical activity (MVPA) than children who had almost no exposure to greener spaces.

The authors write that the health impact of these results could be “cumulatively substantial at the population level.”

This article was not funded directly by RWJF, but is being provided as an additional resource from this special issue of Health & Place.