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Evidence and a Framework for Health-Promoting Parks

From Kaid Benfield, we learn of a new study furthering the evidence that access to urban parks and green space results in healthier children. (We posted last month on a similar study from Britain, and TPL’s publication the Health Benefits of Parks collects more research into one summary.) What makes this new study interesting is its findings regarding inner cities:

Our new study of over 3,800 inner city children revealed that living in areas with green space has a long-term positive impact on children’s weight, and thus, their health,” [said Gilbert C. Liu, M.D., senior author of the new study, which appears in the December issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.]The new study looked at children ages 3 to 18 years whose residence didn’t change over 24 consecutive months. Higher neighborhood greenness was associated with slower increases in body mass index over time, regardless of age, race or sex. This slowing of body mass index could correspond with reduced risk of child obesity in the long term. The inner city children in the study were predominantly African-American, poor and publicly insured.

The evidence is mounting that nearby parks are good for public health, which makes it all the more important to consider the actual health promoting ability of the park: surrounding urban design and access, safety, uses and features that attract users and proper maintenance. A good framework for thinking about all of these issues together can be found in this piece from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Though this lacks detail, the below figure somewhat describes the approach:

3 Responses

  1. This is a very exciting study that is groundbreaking in establishing the link between not just obesity-preventing behavior, like physical activity, but to the actual reduction in the growth of obesity in children. Also exciting is the emphasis that the researchers put on studying children in low-income, urban areas which aren’t often linked to adequate greenspace.

    It stands to reason that even a small, strategically placed park or playground can provide the necessary opportunities that children need to play and participate in healthy activities. Evidence exists that providing features like play equipment, trails, and shelter increases physical activity in children and adults. These may also be predictors of park usage.

    It also stands to reason that the opportunities provided to children to engage in healthy play at local parks would draw more adult users as well. By making parks easily accessible to the surrounding neighborhood and focusing on programming and amenities that draw adults and children, these local spaces become hubs of health within neighborhoods and communities.

  2. erin – great thoughts. I agree that the emphasis here on the low-income urban areas is very important. In a way, this study makes a strong indirect case that parks and playgrounds are an important and key component of community development.

  3. http://www.metrojacksonville.com/content/view/609/117/

    Park surrounded by UF Medical, Dental, Pharmacy and Nursing schools, Shands Hospital, VA facility, State and County Boards of health, City of Jacksonville Govt and CBD. Within 1 1/2 miles are major health insurers Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Florida, and Aetna. The Creek (Hogan’s) drains into one of 14 American Heritage Rivers.

    yet, this park system is still contaminated, poorly maintained and features compromised amenities and functionality (Stormwater).

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