A Quantitative Examination of Park Characteristics Related to Park Use and Physical Activity Among Urban Youth

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation invests in research aimed at halting the rise in childhood obesity. This study, part of a supplement focusing on childhood obesity research, found that young people in Baltimore increased their physical activity by using local parks.

This report investigated associations between physical activity levels and two environmental factors: perceived crime and the presence and quality of parks. The authors used data from the Baltimore Active Living Teens Study (BALTS). BALTS collected physical activity data in two high schools that were more than 70 percent African-American. Participating students wore accelerometers that measured moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) over seven days. Students completed questionnaires that helped researchers construct a Perceived Park Quality Scale. Researchers drew a one-mile buffer around the home address of each student to obtain data on crime and the presence of parks.

Key Findings:

  • Students used a park more frequently if friends used the park and if the students thought the park was of higher quality.
  • Students who used parks reported 49 more minutes of weekly MVPA than those who did not.

Previous research examining the availability of physical activity facilities and physical activity among adolescents lacked data from mostly minority populations.