Joint Use: Being Active in Los Angeles

Oct 29, 2012, 5:49 PM

A father and son play basketball on a school yard.

A joint use agreement (or shared use agreement) allows school facilities such as playgrounds and fields, to be used by the broader community when school is not in session. Health advocates are working to implement more joint use agreements as a way to help neighborhood residents be active in their community. These joint use agreements are being used more and more around the country, but evaluations of their effectiveness are less common.

At the American Public Health Association conference on Monday, Mariah Lafleur, MPH, from Samuels & Associates, presented an evaluation of joint use agreements with schools in some low-income neighborhoods in Los Angeles County. As part of a Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health worked with seven school districts to implement joint use agreements. The program focused on school districts in areas with limited access to public parks.

One part of the evaluation showed that, following the joint use agreement, both children and adults were using the school facilities, and that males and females used the facilities pretty equally. Perhaps most criticals, about two-thirds of users were participating in moderate to vigorous physical activity.

The evaluation also revealed a 16-fold increase in the use of the facilities when there was some kind of programming available, such as organized sports. One of the more popular activities was a walking club for mothers, which was timed so that they could drop their students at school and then participate in the walking club.

Lafleur, the presenter, and the audience in attendance were not aware of any previous published studies showing the importance of including programming along with the joint use agreements.  Lafleur recommends partnering with community groups, such as YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, and parks and recreation departments, to greatly increase community use of school facilities. “We think it is a very cost-efficient way to increase physical activity,” said Lafleur.

>>Learn more about joint use agreements.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.