Physical Activity in California Out-Of-School Time Sites Certified by the Distinguished After School Health Program

Findings and Implications for Future Policy Efforts

Read the full report.

Physical activity helps children stay physically fit, and reduce the risk for obesity, anxiety and other chronic diseases. Current U.S. guidelines call for children to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily but they are far from meeting these goals. With over 10 million children attending afterschool programs in the U.S. each year, including about 1.6 million in California alone, out-of-school time (OST) programs offer a promising setting for increasing children’s physical activity.

The California Distinguished After School Health (DASH) Recognition Program was the first state-legislated voluntary recognition program in OST focused on healthy eating and physical activity. Out-of-school time programs in California elementary and middle schools serving a high proportion of children from low-income families were eligible for the DASH Program to promote healthy eating and physical activity. The program included certification that participating programs met 10 program standards in health education, healthy eating, nutrition education, physical activity and screen time.

This study evaluated the policy for quality and technical assistance issues in delivering physical activity in DASH-certified programs. The primary research questions focus on understanding (1) how programs that apply for DASH certification differ from non-applicants on a range of characteristics and practices, (2) why some programs decide not to apply, and (3) identifying technical assistance needs to improve DASH compliance.

Key findings

  • The most common physical activity session length was 30-35 minutes in which 36% of the time (or approximately 10 minutes) was spent on instruction and management and not on physical activity.
  • The longer the session, the more MVPA time we observed, with boys being more active than girls. This finding is consistent with earlier studies of physical education, which have also shown that children typically attain MVPA for less than half of each class, and that boys are more active than girls (e.g., Lonsdale et al., 2013; McKenzie et al., 2004; Nader, 2003).
  • Observations and staff interviews at DASH certified sites suggest that the amount of physical activity varies among sites. Some staff interpreted the DASH standard as a guideline for session length rather than for children’s activity time per se, and others noted that variation in children’s motivation and ability, session content, weather and other factors were influential.


During our evaluation, the program was allowed to sunset for a range of reasons, including concerns that relatively few programs applied to it and that quality was difficult to validate. Support for continuing DASH was also low due to its isolation from other related quality improvement legislation and its lack of funding for capacity building.

Although DASH ended, efforts to improve physical activity in OST are ongoing in California and other states. Findings from this study reinforce that, in order for children to receive adequate MVPA at OST programs, policies should:

  • Include field-tested, clear language that clearly communicates whether time requirements refer to activity time offered or achieved;
  • Facilitate access to training and technical assistance on how to maximize activity time, reduce management and instruction time, and ensure girls and boys are equally active;
  • encourage physical activity periods that are long enough to accommodate instruction while Allowing children to accrue adequate MVPA; 
  • Include a mechanism for ongoing quality assurance; and
  • Allow for modest levels of day-to-day variability at the classroom and child level, without allowing that variability to weaken activity goals.

Download the 17-page full report (PDF) and 2-page lay summary (coming soon).

Learn more about the project and research team here.

Suggested Citation:
Wiecha J & Rineer J. Physical Activity in California Out-of-School Time Sites Certified by the Distinguished After School Health Program (DASH): Findings and Implications for Future Policy Efforts. Research Triangle Park, NC: RTI International; 2019. Available at:

Evidence to Inform a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy

Evidence to Inform a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy

By: Angie Cradock ScD, MPE , Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Jessica Barrett, MPH, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Tony Hull, BA, Civil Street Solutions; Billy Fields, PhD, Texas State University

Originally posted to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health website.

Read the full report.

In the United States, few people regularly use physically active modes of transportation like walking or cycling to get to work or school. Might increasing the investment in pedestrian and cycling programs encourage more active modes of transportation? This study uses national data on financial investment in pedestrian and bicycle programs and infrastructure to evaluate the evidence for how funding can support more walking and cycling over time.

This study used data from the U.S. Census and the American Community Survey to look at how people ages 16 and older got to and from work over time between 2000 and 2016 in counties with populations of at least 100,000 people. The authors calculated how much total federal transportation funding was used to support projects for cycling and walking in all U.S. counties from 2000 and 2015, classifying some as high investment counties and others as low investment counties. Authors looked in depth at data from 104 counties. High investment counties spent five to six times as much as low-investment counties did on bicycle and pedestrian projects. The researchers then analyzed these data to determine changes over time in the proportion of workers traveling on foot or bicycle within both low investment and high investment counties.

Read the brief summary.

Key findings from the study included:

  • Nationally, the proportion of total federal transportation funding allocated specifically for cycling and pedestrian investments has increased over time from 0.1% of total transportation funding allocation in FY 1992 to 2.2% of total transportation funding allocation in FY 2015.
  • Locally, the allocation and use of federal funding for cycling and pedestrian investments is variable across counties in the U.S.
  • The share of commuters cycling to work increased on average in counties between 2000 and 2016.
  • The increases were greater in those counties with high levels of bicycle and pedestrian funding compared to counties with low levels of funding.

In conclusion, many communities may not invest sufficiently to support growth in cycling and walking for transportation, recreation or exercise. Federal funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects can play a role in increasing the proportion of workers using a bicycle to get to and from work.

Download the full infographic.

The findings in this research summary are based on the results of a project commissioned by the Physical Activity Research Center (PARC) focused on addressing research gaps related to policies aimed at helping children achieve a healthy weight.

Suggested Citation:
Cradock AL, Barrett J, Hull T, Fields W. Evidence to Inform a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy. Boston, MA: Prevention Research Center on Nutrition and Physical Activity at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; 2019. Available at:

Address correspondence to Angie Cradock, ScD, MPE at [email protected].

Best Practices in Engaging Public Health in Complete Streets

Public Health Engagement in Complete Streets Initiatives: Examples and Lessons Learned

By: Christina Sansone, MPH, Jill Sadowski, and Jamie F. Chriqui, PhD, MHS, UIC Institute for Health Research and Policy

Researchers at the Illinois Prevention Research Center’s Physical Activity Policy Research Network+ (PAPRN+) Collaborating Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health and Institute for Health Research and Policy have released a new report entitled, Public Health Engagement in Complete Streets Initiatives: Examples and Lessons Learned. The report shares strategies, lessons learned, and case studies of how public health agencies, practitioners, and advocates have successfully engaged with their planning, transportation, and public works’ counterparts on Complete Streets policy making and related initiatives. Information for the report was obtained through key informant interviews and Internet research for 15 jurisdictions across the United States. One of the key features of the report are 2-page profiles on each jurisdiction, which include:

Read the full report.
  • Summaries of how the public health sector has engaged on Complete Streets initiatives and other agencies that they have worked with on this issue
  • Key lessons learned through their experiences
  • How they have prioritized equity
  • A timeline of their Complete Streets-related policy making, initiatives, coalitions, etc
  • Links to their policies, guidelines, plans, etc.

Funding for this study was provided by a sub-award from the Physical Activity Research Center (PARC) and from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the Illinois Prevention Research Center Physical Activity Policy Research Network+ (PAPRN+) Collaborating Center.

Decisions to Act: Investing in Physical Activity to Enhance Learning and Health

Decisions to Act: Investing in Physical Activity to Enhance Learning and Health

By: Emma V. Sanchez-Vaznaugh, Maria Acosta, and Sally J. Geisse, San Francisco State University 

Every child deserves to lead a healthy, productive life. Research shows that health and education are connected—healthy students achieve more in school, and more education leads to a healthier, longer life. School-based physical activity (PA), including physical education (PE) has been linked with multiple learning and health benefits, including improved brain function, academic performance, heart health and body weight. Current US guidelines recommend that children engage in at least one hour of PA each day, but most do not. Schools can play a critically important role in this regard, yet few schools provide students the minimum recommended amount of daily PA. We have limited knowledge about how schools, especially low-resourced schools, focus on and implement strategies to help children be active.

This study investigated why and how a group of PA-supportive elementary schools prioritize and implement PA strategies to help students reach the minimum recommended amount of daily PA.


The main reason schools make PA a priority is because PA helps advance learning and health goals. The study participants mentioned they know from research and from direct experience (e.g., as teachers, principals) that PA can yield multiple learning-related benefits, including better focus in class and improved test scores. Additionally, PA is seen as a strategy to help reduce obesity and inactivity, improve physical, mental and behavioral health, and social and emotional learning. One respondent shared “You got to exercise their brains!”

A number of critical factors enable schools to strategize and put PA activities into action.

  • Policies and standards for PA and PE reinforce the importance of PA.
  • A culture of learning and health that considers PA as integral to learning and health.
  • Acceptance that PA adds value.
  • Funding and resources often drive decisions to put PA strategies in practice.


The results offer critical insights for policy and decision-makers to increase PA and PE in schools across the nation.

  • Policymakers can strengthen policies regarding PA/PE by including requirements for funding allocations, guidelines for implementation and compliance measures.
  • Everyone, including policymakers, advocates, schools and school districts, should create and foster a culture of learning and health that embraces the multiple benefits of PA.
  • Funding agencies can offer grants and technical assistance to support grant writing for low-resourced schools.
  • Schools and school districts can foster collaboration and networking. This includes ensuring that time and resources are available, such as professional development opportunities and conferences related to PA, for staff and community members to share ideas and use resources effectively.

Download the Report

A 14-page full report (PDF) and 2-page lay summary (PDF) are available.

NRPA Open Space Radio Features PARC

NRPA Open Space Radio Features PARC

The following blog post is reprinted from Open Space, the official blog and podcast of NRPA. 

Does Our Built Environment Impact Our Health Behaviors? — Episode 028

By Cort Jones | Posted on October 22, 2018

On today’s episode of Open Space Radio, we’re joined by Aaron Hipp, an Associate Professor of Community Health and Sustainability at NC State University’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management.

Aaron is currently conducting research on topics such as how, where, and why our public built environments impact health behaviors such as physical activity and recreation, and the effect of the environment where we spend most of our time, such as work, school and sleep, on leisure time physical activity.

On the show, we discuss how, statistically, children and people of color have the lowest rates of physical activity as compared to other demographics, and this lack of physical activity has large implications on the health outcomes of communities of color. We examine why these disparities in physical activity exist between demographics, and how parks and improved accessibility to them can be used to close this gap.

We also take a look at Aaron’s work on a study through the Physical Activity Research Center (PARC), which is focused on understanding how parks are used by children in communities of color. The study focused on evaluating park use through observation, intercept surveys and community surveys.

Aaron also gives some advice on how a time and resource limited agency can perform this type of research through:

  • Not being afraid to move forward
  • A systematic/purposeful approach
  • Partnerships/collaborations

Listen to the episode for the full story.

Observations on Observations: Studying How Children Use Parks

Observations on Observations: Studying How Children Use Parks

By: The NC State team (Floyd, Hipp, Marquet, Mazak, Alberico, Huang)

In cities across the country, public parks and playgrounds provide opportunities to increase routine physical activity among children during non-school hours. Because neighborhood parks are widely available and affordable, their potential to encourage children to be more active is particularly important in low-income communities of color. The NC State team for the Physical Activity Research Center (PARC) has been observing, surveying, and objectively quantifying use and physical activity across parks in New York City. NY, and Raleigh and Durham, NC.

Across four months in 2017 our team observed more than 50,000 people using 20 different New York City parks. For consistency we used the System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities, or SOPARC. Parks were observed during the school year (spring) and summer, weekdays and weekends, mornings, afternoons, and early evenings. We did not observe the entirety of each park, but instead pre-selected specific areas heavily used by children and youth (playground equipment, splash pads, basketball courts, etc.). Observations were brief scans of each of these areas once every 15 minutes for 2-3 hours per visit. We noted activity level (sedentary, moderate, or vigorous), gender, age group, race/ethnicity (White, African American, Asian American, Hispanic/Latino, and other/unsure. We worked with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and used US Census data to identify parks in lower income neighborhoods with high proportions of either Asian Americans or Latino/Hispanic populations and parks with at least one playground and sports court/fields.

As PARC focuses on kids between 5 and 10 years of age, we want to share our observations on observing children across all these days; 79 unique days in fact. Over 16,500 children were observed during this study. Each momentary scan averaged over 1.5 children per area observed, or 56 children observed per hour. Playgrounds had the most children and there were more in the parks from 6-7pm than any other time (10am, 3pm, 3:30pm). More children were observed in parks during the school year than the summer, and more on weekend observations than weekdays. Areas of the park where organized activities were occurring or were in the shade were more popular than those not organized or in full sun.

Most children were active during the observations (69%). Activity differed little across parks. Non-shaded areas were a little more active than shaded, perhaps accounting for activity on larger sporting courts and fields like soccer and basketball. Swing sets were also high in physical activity with children often vigorously pumping their legs to go higher and higher.

The parks and playgrounds we observed in New York City were well used. Across all visits, children were present over 60% of the momentary scans of playgrounds. Kids ran from playground area to swings to splash areas while parents, guardians, or older siblings sat nearby in the shade. During one observation, a parks staff member brought out bouncy balls, cones, and hula hoops, just setting these in the middle of the playground area. He did not provide instructions, but allowed the children to use the equipment as they wanted. A hula hoop competition ensued in one corner followed by the use of a hula hoop set on cones as a sort of basketball hoop with children running around and throwing the balls toward the hoops while others blocked their shots. Also anecdotally we saw families spending multiple hours in the parks during the summer, especially those parks featuring splash areas for the kids.

In the highly dense environments of New York the space of a park and playground and even the simplest of play equipment kept the parks well used across the four months of observations.

2017 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) Data Released

2017 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) Data Released

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has provided the below highlights from the data on nutrition, physical activity and chronic conditions.

The 2017 YRBSS examines overall trends in 121 health-related behaviors of students in grades 9-12 plus obesity, overweight, and asthma. 

Most high school students are not meeting the recommended guidelines for daily physical activity.

  • Seventy four percent of high school students are not getting 60 minutes or more of physical activity per day.
  • Fifty percent more students are spending three or more hours per day playing video games or spending leisure time on a computer than getting at least one hour of physical activity. This includes using smartphones and tablets but does not include additional time spent watching tv. The prevalence was higher among black (47.2%) and Hispanic (45.4%) than white (40.7%) students.

There is room for improvement in healthy eating for students and large racial disparities exist.

  • There is a slight decrease from 2015 (57.8%) in students that had at least one sports drink the week before the survey, but 52.3% of students had at least one that week.
  • Forty percent of high school students are not eating even one vegetable each day. The prevalence of not having eaten vegetables one or more times per day was higher among black students (50.6%) than Hispanic (43.9%) or white (37.2%) students
  • Not enough students are starting their day ready to learn with only 35.3% of students eating breakfast every day. The prevalence of having daily breakfast was higher for white students (38.1%) than black (28.7%) or Hispanic (31.7%) students.

Obesity and overweight remains high among high school students and racial disparities persist.

  • More than one-third of students had obesity or were overweight (30.4%). The prevalence of obesity or overweight was higher among Hispanic (37.7%) and black (36%) students than white (26.5%) students.
  • Nationwide, 47.1% of students were trying to lose weight. The prevalence of trying to lose weight was higher among Hispanic (55.4%) than white (45.1%) and black (42.3%) students.

A majority of high school students are still not getting enough sleep at night.

  • Seventy-four percent of students are not getting recommended 8 hours of sleep each night.
  • The prevalence of getting 8 or more hours of sleep was higher among 9th-grade (34.8%) than 10th-grade (26.6%), 11th-grade (21.4%), and 12th-grade (17.6%).

Many students come to school with a health condition, like asthma, and they need help managing it.

  • Twenty two and a half percent (22.5%) of students have been diagnosed with asthma by a health care provider.
  • The prevalence of having ever been told by a health care provider that they have asthma was higher among black (29.8%) than white (20.9%) and Hispanic (21.1%) students

Schools have a unique and important role to play in addressing the health-related behaviors of all students. Schools can:

  • Teach and provide students with opportunities to improve their dietary and physical activity behaviors to establish lifelong habits.
  • Provide healthy and enriching alternatives to screen-time (playing video games, watching TV, using smartphones and tablets) through beneficial afterschool options.
  • Support healthy sleep for students by adopting later start times for high school.
  • Support student health, learning and attendance by providing case management and adopting policies to help students manage conditions, like asthma, at school.

View all of the YRBSS results here.

Promoting Physical Activity with Temporary Street Closures

Promoting Physical Activity with Temporary Street Closures

By: Keshia Pollack Porter, PhD, MPH, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Renée Umstattd Meyer, PhD, MCHES, Baylor University, and Amanda Walker, MSRS, Physical Activity Research Center

[Reprinted with permission from Parks & Recreation magazine from its May 2018 issue. Copyright 2018 by the National Recreation and Park Association. Also available online here.]

Parks and playgrounds are a good source of physical activity for kids, but not all kids have access to safe and well-maintained facilities. In fact, lower-income communities and communities of color tend to have less access to quality park and recreation facilities. Research shows that Latinos, African-Americans and lower-income individuals are more likely to live in areas that have fewer park acres per person compared to whites and individuals in higher-income communities. Traffic and crime are also barriers to safe outdoor play and activity in some communities.

The concept of “Play Streets” has emerged as a way to promote outdoor play and physical activity for children in neighborhoods without access to safe, well-maintained parks and playgrounds. Play Streets are temporary street closures that, for a specified time, create safe play spaces. These closures can be recurring or episodic and offer a safe place for children to be physically active without traffic-safety concerns. Banning vehicles from the streets also has the added benefit of improving air quality, as well as enhancing neighborhoods by building partnerships and increasing social cohesion. Thus, Play Streets not only provide places for safe play, but also advance health equity. Play Streets have primarily been implemented in urban areas, so there is a lack of examples and resources for rural communities to use.

Play Streets Case Study

With support from the Physical Activity Research Center (PARC), we selected four rural communities — in Maryland, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Texas — each with a history of hosting community events, to organize and host Play Streets during summer 2017. PARC is a collaboration of internationally recognized faculty from five leading universities — University of California – San Diego, Georgia Institute of Technology, North Carolina State University, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Baylor University — with backgrounds in public health, city planning, behavioral science, and parks and recreation. It is funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as part of a larger effort to build an inclusive Culture of Health across America to ensure that all children have opportunities to grow up at a healthy weight.

The communities received mini-grants to use to purchase equipment for free play, rent equipment and purchase snacks (we encouraged healthy snacks) for four Play Streets during the summer months. We studied how each community implemented the Play Streets, including how they were advertised, available activities and when they were held. We used a popular and valid tool for observing physical activity, called SOPARC (System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities), and pedometers to measure how active kids and adults were at the Play Streets. We also completed a systematic review of the peer-reviewed and “grey” literature to document what we know about Play Streets and their impacts on play for children, physical activity levels and communities.

The literature review evaluated hundreds of documents, and, based on 13 peer-reviewed articles and 36 reports/documents that met our inclusion criteria, we found the following:

  • Play Streets have mainly been implemented in cities and suburban areas.
  • Play Streets were described as safe places for children to play because of reduced traffic and increased supervision.
  • Only a few studies measured physical activity as an outcome.
  • Play Streets strengthen communities and increase social interactions.
  • Some residents complained about traffic detours and noise on the days that Play Streets were held.
  • Some organizations that hosted Play Streets hope they can decrease crime and violence among adolescents.

Preliminary Findings

While we are still in the early stages of analyzing the data from the four communities, our preliminary findings are that Play Streets are a good way to get kids active in rural communities. Each of the Play Streets included a variety of activities using temporary play spaces and equipment, with inflatables being the most popular activity and where children seemed to be most active. We also found that in rural communities, streets are not always the most accessible places for Play Streets to be implemented, considering that there are fewer streets and those streets often are major thoroughfares through town (hence, they cannot be closed to traffic!).

Play Streets in rural areas might actually be more accessible in other public spaces, like fields and/or parking lots. For instance, one community collaborated with its local park and recreation department to identify a location for the Play Streets, which ended up occurring on sections of an underutilized public park, including the parking lot.

We are also learning how each community implemented Play Streets, including the partners they are working with and how limited resources are being creatively combined within these organizations. For example, one community partnered with a summer meals program and hosted the Play Streets at a time that overlapped with when children were picked up for their summer meal. The intentional “coupling” of Play Streets with other community or organization events was consistent across the four communities. This approach allowed organizations not only to capitalize on shared resources, but also to reduce the burden and barrier of suburban sprawl faced by rural residents, who often had to travel via car to attend the Play Streets. We look forward to learning more about the impacts of Play Streets on children and families, in addition to important lessons regarding how communities should organize and run them.


For individuals interested in this method of intervention to promote outdoor play, it is important to know that Play Streets offer an opportunity for safe outdoor play for children, especially in communities that lack safe parks and playgrounds, and/or available and affordable programming opportunities. They are relatively low cost and carry many potential benefits for host organizations, the children who participate and the broader community. Play Streets are a promising intervention strategy that can help communities close gaps in availability of and access to safe places to play and enhance health equity while doing so, especially in areas that have fewer resources and greater challenges to supporting and promoting physical activity and play.

The practicality and low costs of Play Streets also provide a “reachable” solution to address challenges around access and availability of safe play spaces that can simultaneously bring communities together in a meaningful manner not only to support their children, but also to improve community connectedness and capacity, potentially increasing social networks within the community and collective efficacy. In many rural areas, public resources are limited, and the idea of advocating for new parks or even renovating parks or other play areas can be daunting and often unrealistic as an immediate or even long-term solution. Working with communities to understand how to advocate for some of these larger environmental changes remains important; however, Play Streets offer a more attainable, immediate and likely sustainable solution, with potential for broader social impacts and reach.

Keshia Pollack Porter is a Professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. M. Renée Umstattd Meyer is an Associate Professor of Public Health at Baylor University. Amanda Walker is a Research Associate for Active Living Research and the Physical Activity Research Center at the University of California San Diego.

Physical Activity Advocacy Training Among Youth in Lower-Income Racial and Ethnic Minority Communities

Physical Activity Advocacy Training Among Youth in Lower-Income Racial and Ethnic Minority Communities

By: Nisha Botchwey, PhD and Katie O’Connell, MCRP, Georgia Tech School of City and Regional Planning

The panoramic views of the Canadian Rockies offered a spectacular backdrop for conversations led by our Georgia Tech research team about the “Physical Activity Advocacy Training Among Youth in Lower-Income Racial and Ethnic Minority Communities” poster presented at the 2018 Active Living Research Conference (ALR) in Banff in February 2018.

Our work grows out of the Physical Activity Research Center and its goal to create safe and appropriate physical activity spaces for youth with a focus on low resource, ethnic and racial minority youth. The Youth Engagement and Action for Health (YEAH) curriculum was originally designed by the San Diego County Childhood Obesity Initiative to train youth to assess their neighborhoods and develop advocacy plans to promote health promoting changes. Our team modified the curriculum to focus on physical activity and to study the ways advocacy-training can address disparities in lower-income racial and ethnic minority youth. At the time of the conference, there were six completed clubs, located in suburban Virginia around D.C., Los Angeles, Miami, rural north Georgia, and Charlottesville, VA.

We used pre and post survey questions to understand students’ changing perceptions around leadership, physical activity, and healthy schools/communities. The three largest increases were reported in the number of students who felt they were leaders, those that participated in more than 60 minutes of physical activity in the past 7 days, and those who enjoyed talking in front of groups. For example, 37 percent of students felt they were leaders at the start of the project compared with 62 percent at the end. We also found a 23 percent increase in the number of students that felt they could ask others to help make their school/community healthier.

After YEAH site completions, we interviewed adult leaders as well as the decision makers that received presentations from the students. Everyone gave us positive reviews about the project.  One leader thought, “It was a great program that gave interactive lessons about themselves (the youth) and their community”. Another appreciated the students taking their research questions to a higher level as well as to watch them grow, especially around communication skills. One leader was surprised by the students’ enthusiasm for the project.

Given the recent social movements, especially that led by youth, the youth empowerment aspects of the project were received with great enthusiasm. People wanted to know about student motivations and their level of agency in going through the curriculum and targeting a physical activity challenge to solve. They were also interested in bringing YEAH back to their communities and eagerly anticipated a revised curriculum that incorporated lessons from our study.

We now have twenty-six clubs in progress across the U.S. including Miami, Maine, Hawaii, Saipan, and Atlanta. With approximately 300 participants, we will be able to look at our data across ethnicities, ages, geographies, and genders. The YEAH results will be published in academic journals but also converted into resources designed for youth serving organizations to support youth advocacy for physical activity promotion. Long-term, we believe the data gathered around YEAH can help make policy changes. Being at the Mountaintop in Banff allowed us to truly take an extended view of our work and ALR as the “premier venue for policy-relevant research and cross-sector exchange between scientists, practitioners and policy makers on how to create and sustain active living environments” provided a solid foundation and elevated conversations to inspire additional analyses, future research questions and community impact.

Exploring How Play Streets Impact Children’s Physical Activity

Exploring How Play Streets Impact Children’s Physical Activity

By: Keshia Pollack Porter, PhD, MPH, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Renée Umstattd Meyer, PhD, MCHES, Baylor University

Play Streets! Have you heard of them? Well, Play Streets are temporary street closures that allow for an area to be used for physical activity with the earliest of these events dating back to the 1920s. With support from the Physical Activity Research Center (PARC), we have been studying how Play Streets are organized and their impacts on kids, families, and communities in rural settings. To get the word out about our work, in February our team gave three presentations at the 2018 Active Living Research Conference in Banff, Canada and in March two presentations at the 2018 American Academy of Health Behavior Annual Scientific Meeting in Portland, Oregon. Our presentations highlighted initial findings from our study.

What do we know about Play Streets?

Two of our presentations described two systematic reviews of the existing literature regarding Play Streets and their impacts on play for children, physical activity levels, and communities. We examined 13 peer review articles (from 180 abstracts reviewed in the academic literature) that met inclusion criteria for the review. Six of these studies were from the U.S. and 10 out of the 13 studies did not measure physical activity outcomes. We also reviewed the non-academic literature on Play Streets. The 36 documents that we reviewed (out of 247 documents) were from the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and Chile. Nearly all (34 out of the 36 documents) did not measure physical activity outcomes.

The main findings from the literature include:

  • While most of the documents that we reviewed did not measure physical activity, Play Streets were described as safe places for children to play because of reduced traffic and increased supervision.
  • Games, activities, and equipment were provided for children at Play Streets, most commonly including cycling, dancing, and walking.
  • Play Streets strengthen communities and increase social interactions.
  • Some residents complained about traffic detours and noise from Play Streets events.
  • Some organizations hope that Play Streets can decrease crime and violence among adolescents.

What do we know about Play Streets in rural communities?

Our other presentations examined how Play Streets impact the physical activity of youth in rural communities. We were excited for these preliminary findings because they are from the first ever investigation of Play Streets in rural communities. In our study, four different rural communities received mini-grants to each host 4 Play Streets during the summer of 2017. We used a popular and valid tool for observing physical activity called SOPARC (System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities). SOPARC has mainly been used to observe physical activity in permanent spaces such as parks, and we adapted it to temporary spaces, which are the essence of Play Streets.  Most notable about the use of SOPARC for Play Streets was that during the course of a Play Street, spaces had the potential to appear and/or disappear depending on how children were using the different areas! We are still analyzing these data, but what we have seen so far, is that across the 350+ children who wore pedometers at the Play Streets, another way to measure physical activity, many of them were active at the Play Street.

Based on existing literature, Play Streets seem to have positive impacts on children’s opportunities for general play and their physical activity levels, as well as on community safety and relations. Our data also suggest that Play Streets are a good way to get kids active in rural communities. We look forward to learning more about the impacts of Play Streets on children and families, in addition to important lessons regarding how communities should organize and run them.