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Andrea Richardson, Bing Han, Stephanie Williamson and Deborah Cohen

Background: Parks present opportunities for recreational physical activity and mental relaxation; however, they are underutilized. Methods: The authors examined how changes in management directly and indirectly impacted park use. Using a national sample of 169 parks sampled from 25 cities, the authors linked park management reported via surveys with systematic direct observation of park use, park-based physical activity, and park conditions observed during the spring/summers of 2014 and 2016. The authors used structural equation modeling to estimate longitudinal pathways from changes in park management and conditions to changes in park use. Results: Increases in subsidized meal offerings and greater use of marketing to promote park events predicted increased person-hours of total weekly park use. Pathways predicting park use varied across user and activity type. Conclusion: The authors’ findings suggest that changing park management practices combined with park conditions may promote park use.

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Terry Marsh, Kathryn Pitkin Derose and Deborah A. Cohen

Background:

Parks provide numerous opportunities for physical activity (PA). Previous studies have evaluated parks’ physical features, but few have assessed how park staff influence PA.

Methods:

We conducted semistructured interviews with 49 park directors, focusing on perceptions of their role, park programs, marketing and outreach, external collaborations, and PA promotion. Directors also completed a questionnaire providing demographics, education and training, and other personal characteristics.

Results:

Park directors’ descriptions of their roles varied widely, from primarily administrative to emphasizing community interaction, though most (70% to 80%) reported offering programs and community interaction as primary. Including PA in current programs and adding PA-specific programs were the most commonly reported ways of increasing PA. Also noted were facility and staffing improvements, and conducting citywide marketing. Many directors felt inadequately trained in marketing. Most parks reported community collaborations, but they appeared fairly superficial. An increasing administrative burden and bureaucracy were recurring themes throughout the interviews.

Conclusions:

Staff training in marketing and operation of PA programs is needed. Partnerships with health departments and organizations can help facilitate the PA promotion potential of parks. As there are competing views of how parks should be managed, standardized benchmarks to evaluate efficiency may help to optimize usage and PA promotion.

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Bing Han, Deborah A. Cohen, Kathryn Pitkin Derose, Terence Marsh, Stephanie Williamson and Laura Raaen

Purpose:

This study aims to examine the reliability of a 12-button counter to simultaneously assess physical activity (PA) by age and gender subgroups in park settings.

Methods:

A total of 1,160 pairs of observations were conducted in 481 target areas of 19 neighborhood parks in the great Los Angeles, California, area between June 2013 and March 2014. Interrater reliability was assessed by Pearson’s correlation, intra-class correlation (ICC), and agreement probability in metabolic equivalents (METs). Cosine similarity was used to check the resemblance of distributions among age and gender categories. Pictures taken in a total of 112 target areas at the beginning of the observations were used as a second reliability check.

Results:

Interrater reliability was high for the total METs and METs in all age and gender categories (between 0.82 and 0.97), except for male seniors (correlations and ICC between 0.64 and 0.77, agreement probability 0.85 to 0.86). Reliability was higher for total METs than for METs spent in moderate-to-vigorous PA. Correlation and ICC between observers’ measurement and picture-based counts are also high (between 0.79 and 0.94).

Conclusion:

Trained observers can reliably use the 12-button counter to accurately assess PA distribution and disparities by age and gender.

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Deborah A. Cohen, Bing Han, Sujeong Park, Stephanie Williamson and Kathryn P. Derose

Routine physical activity is important for everyone, and most urban areas have an infrastructure of neighborhood parks that are intended to serve as a setting for recreation and leisure. However, parks are not used proportionally by all age groups, genders, and socioeconomic groups. This paper explores factors associated with park use by different age and gender groups in low-income neighborhoods in Los Angeles, CA. We found that women’s visits to parks generally centered around children, whereas men’s visits were more likely to be associated with their own physical activity. Barriers for seniors are associated with limited facilities and programming that meet their needs. Park managers should consider park renovations that include social meeting places, comfortable sitting areas, and walking paths to better serve women and seniors.

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Thomas L. McKenzie, Deborah A. Cohen, Amber Sehgal, Stephanie Williamson and Daniela Golinelli

Background:

New tools are needed to examine physical activity and the contexts in which it occurs. Community parks contribute to physical activity, but measuring activity and associated variables in them is challenging because area contexts change and the numbers and characteristics of users are highly variable.

Methods:

We developed SOPARC (System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities) and tested its use by observing 16,244 individuals in 165 park areas. Reliabilities included 472 simultaneous measures by independent observers.

Results:

Correlations between observers on number of area participants was 0.99 for female and male park users. Reliabilities (i.e., percent agreement) for age (89%, females; 85%, males), race/ethnic (80%, females; 82%, males), and activity level (80%, females; 88%, males) groupings met acceptable criteria. Reliabilities for area contexts (i.e., usable, accessible, supervised, organized, equipped) exceeded 94%.

Conclusions:

SOPARC is a reliable and feasible instrument for assessing physical activity and associated contextual data in community settings.

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Deborah Cohen, Molly Scott, Frank Zhen Wang, Thomas L. McKenzie and Dwayne Porter

Building design and grounds might contribute to physical activity, and youth spend much of their daylight hours at school. We examined the associations among school building footprints, the size of school grounds, and in-school physical activity of 1566 sixth-grade girls from medium to large middle schools enrolled in the Trial of Activity for Adolescent Girls (TAAG). The school building footprint and the number of active outdoor amenities were associated with physical activity among adolescent girls. On average, the school footprint size accounted for 4% of all light physical activity and 16% of all MET-weight moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MW-MVPA) during school hours. Active outdoor amenities accounted for 29% of all MW-MVPA during school. School design appears to be associated with physical activity, but it is likely that programming (eg, physical education, intramurals, club sports), social factors, and school siting are more important determinants of total physical activity.

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Deborah A. Cohen, Bing Han, Jennifer Isacoff, Bianca Shulaker, Stephanie Williamson, Terry Marsh, Thomas L. McKenzie, Megan Weir and Rajiv Bhatia

Background:

Given the concerns about low rates of physical activity among low-income minority youth, many communitybased organizations are investing in the creation or renovation of public parks to encourage youth to become more physically active. To what degree park renovations accomplish this goal is not known.

Methods:

We used the System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC) to measure park users and their physical activity levels before and after 2 parks were renovated. We compared findings with 4 parks: 2 that were unrenovated parks and 2 that were undergoing renovation. We also surveyed park users and local residents about their use of the parks.

Results:

Compared with parks that had not yet been renovated, the improved parks saw more than a doubling in the number of visitors and a substantial increase in energy expended in the parks. Increased park use was pronounced in adults and children, but was not seen in teens and seniors. Park renovations were associated with a significantly increased perception of park safety.

Conclusions:

Park improvements can have a significant impact on increasing park use and local physical activity.

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Deborah A. Cohen, Claude Setodji, Kelly R. Evenson, Phillip Ward, Sandra Lapham, Amy Hillier and Thomas L. McKenzie

Background:

The Systematic Observation of Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC) was designed to estimate the number and characteristics of people using neighborhood parks by assessing them 4 times/day, 7 days/week. We tested whether this schedule was adequate and determined the minimum number of observations necessary to provide a robust estimate of park user characteristics and their physical activity levels.

Methods:

We conducted observations every hour for 14 hours per day during 1 summer and 1 autumn week in 10 urban neighborhood parks: 2 each in Los Angeles, CA; Albuquerque, NM; Columbus, OH; Durham, NC; and Philadelphia, PA. We counted park users by gender, age group, apparent race/ethnicity, and activity level. We used a standardized Cronbach’s alpha and intraclass correlation coefficients to test the reliability of using fewer observations.

Results:

We observed 76,632 individuals, an average of 547/park/day (range 155−786). Interobserver reliability ranged from 0.80 to 0.99. Obtaining a robust estimate of park user characteristics and their physical activity required a schedule of 4 days/week, 4 times/day.

Conclusion:

An abbreviated schedule of SOPARC was sufficient for estimating park use, park user characteristics, and physical activity. Applying these observation methods can augment physical activity surveillance.

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Deborah A. Cohen, Scott Ashwood, Molly Scott, Adrian Overton, Kelly R. Evenson, Carolyn C. Voorhees, Ariane Bedimo-Rung and Thomas L. McKenzie

Background:

Proximity to routine destinations is an important correlate of physical activity. We examined the association between distance from school and physical activity in adolescent girls.

Methods:

We mapped the addresses of 1554 sixth-grade girls who participated in the Trial of Activity for Adolescent Girls (TAAG) Study and calculated the shortest distance from home to school along the street network. Using a hierarchical design we examined the association between MET-weighted moderate to vigorous physical activity (MW- MVPA) and distance to school, while controlling for potential confounders.

Results:

Distance to school was inversely associated with weekday MW- MVPA for middle school girls. For every mile the girls lived from their schools, they engaged in an average of 13 fewer MET-weighted minutes per week.

Conclusions:

Distance to school is inversely associated with MW-MVPA. The most adversely affected girls lived more than 5 miles from school. Time spent commuting could explain reduced time for physical activity.

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Carolyn C. Voorhees, Dianne J. Catellier, J. Scott Ashwood, Deborah A. Cohen, Ariane Rung, Leslie Lytle, Terry L. Conway and Marsha Dowda

Background:

Socioeconomic status (SES) has well known associations with a variety of health conditions and behaviors in adults but is unknown in adolescents.

Methods:

Multilevel analysis was conducted to examine the associations between individual and neighborhood-level measures of SES and physical activity and body mass index in a sample of 1554 6th grade girls selected at random from 36 middle schools across 6 geographic regions in the United States that participated in the Trial of Activity for Adolescent Girls (TAAG). Data on parental education and employment, and receipt of subsidized school lunch were collected by questionnaire. Neighborhood-level SES was measured by the Townsend Index. Nonschool physical activity levels were measured by accelerometer and type, location and context was measured using a 3 day physical activity recall (3DPAR).

Results:

After controlling for race, lower parental education and higher levels of social deprivation were associated with higher BMI. In a model with both variables, effects were attenuated and only race remained statistically significant. None of the indices of SES were related to accelerometer measured physical activity. Bivariate associations with self-reported Moderate-Vigorous Physical Activity (MVPA) location and type (3DPAR) varied by SES.

Conclusion:

Among adolescent girls in the TAAG Study, the prevalence of overweight is high and inversely related to individual and neighborhood SES.