Park use and activity among children in low-income racial and ethnic minority neighborhoods in New York City

Park use and activity among children in low-income racial and ethnic minority neighborhoods in New York City

Download the lay summary.
Download the lay summary.

By: Aaron Hipp, Claudia Alberico, Jing-Huei Huang, Elizabeth Mazak, and Myron F. Floyd from NC State University; and Dustin Fry and Gina S. Lovasi from Drexel University

Childhood obesity rates in the U.S. remain high: Nearly one in three young people is overweight or obese. Rates are significantly higher among African American and Hispanic youth than among white or Asian youth, and among youth from low-income families compared to those in higher-income families. These health disparities need further understanding and study so that leaders can recommend programs, environments, and policies to reduce them. Parks and playgrounds provide a free, publicly available resource for play and activity that may lead to a decrease in obesity. There have been few studies specifically examining park and playground use among children of color living in low-income neighborhoods. We conducted 79 site visits to New York City parks in 2017 to understand park and playground use in low-income communities of color.

Download the lay summary.


NCSU Lay Summary Figure

Our team conducted 79 site visits in 20 different parks in New York City during the spring and summer of 2017. We observed over 16,500 kids ages 5 to 10 years old, referred to generally as children below. One-third were Asian-American, 40% Latino, almost 20% African American. Use was lower in the early afternoon hours, and highest in the early evening (6-7pm) and weekends. Kids were less active in the shade or when weather was warmer.

Areas of Activity

  • Swing sets presented more activity than all other areas of a park, while water/splash features presented the least active areas. Playgrounds generally were another area of high use.
  • Formal organization, such as sports practices or activities with a coach or parks employee, did not occur often in the parks. But, when these programs did occur there were significantly more children in these spaces than not.
  • When an organized activity was happening, more children were present, for example children participating in soccer practice. But overall, children were most likely to be found playing in informally organized areas. Across the 20 parks there were many more informal opportunities than formal opportunities.
  • Handball courts and baseball fields were the spaces least likely to have children.

Differences by race and ethnicity

  • African American children were less likely to be in parks right after school (3-5:30 pm) during the spring. Latino children had the highest probability of being in parks on weekend days.
  • Asian American and Latino children were more likely to be in areas with formal organized activities.
  • Most children were observed using swing sets and playgrounds. This was especially true for Latino and Asian American children, while African American children were most likely to be found on basketball courts.

Findings from this lay summary are available in the full article, published in Urban Forestry & Urban Greening:

Marquet O, Hipp JA, Alberico C, Huang J-H, Fry D, Mazak E, et al. Park use preferences and physical activity among ethnic minority children in low-income neighborhoods in New York City. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. 2019; 38: 346-353.

Suggested Citation for Lay Summary:

Marquet O, Hipp JA, et al. Park Use and Activity among Children in Low-Income Racial and Ethnic Minority Neighborhoods in New York City. A Lay Summary. San Diego, CA: Physical Activity Research Center and Raleigh, NC: North Carolina State University; 2019. Available at:

This lay summary was made possible with funding from the Physical Activity Research Center. The research that generated the lay summary was led by Drs. Myron F. Floyd and J. Aaron Hipp from North Carolina State University.

Are adolescents less physically active in the summer?

Are adolescents less physically active in the summer?

By: James F. Sallis, Terry L. Conway, Kelli L. Cain, Carrie Geremia, Edith Bonilla, Chad Spoon, University of California San Diego

Children and adolescents gain more weight in the summer than the school year. African American and Latino youth gain more weight in the summer than do youth from other racial or ethnic groups. Some studies have found that youth are less physically activity in the summer, which is surprising because they are not required to sit for many hours in school during the summer. It is unknown whether this seasonal difference varies across race, ethnic, and sex subgroups. The aim of this study was to examine race/ethnic and sex differences in adolescent physical activity, sedentary behavior, and related variables, comparing the school year and summer.

Download the lay summary.


Physical activity

Physical activity rates declined from school year to the summer among all race/ethnic groups and both sexes. Daily physical activity amounts dropped by an average of 14 minutes per day. There were significant racial/ethnic differences in the decline:

UCSD Lay Summary Figures
  • American Indians showed the greatest decline, about 27 min/day, and White non-Hispanics showed the least decline, about 5 min/day. This may be due partly to American Indians being the most active, and White non-Hispanics being the least active, during the school year.
  • The school year to summer decline tended to be greater among boys (17 min/day) than girls (10 min/day), though girls were consistently less active than boys.
  • American Indians, Latinos, and girls were the least active groups in the summer, indicating these subgroups are at particularly high risk.

Sedentary (sitting) time

All racial and ethnic groups were sedentary between 8 and 9 hours per day, which did not differ from the school year to the summer. All groups of adolescents reported more screen time in the summer, except for American Indians. Perhaps screen time increased during summer because enforced sitting time during school was replaced by more screen time in the summer.

Enjoyment of physical activity

All subgroups of adolescents reported less enjoyment of physical activity in the summer. This is a possible explanation of lower physical activity in the summer. Virtually all physical activities are with peers during the school year, so the greater difficulty of organizing activities with peers in summer could reduce enjoyment of summer activities.

What activities do adolescents prefer in the summer?

Walking was the most preferred physical activity across all subgroups and seasons. Exercise (perhaps interpreted as dance exercise) and running were highly rated by all race/ethnic groups, and girls showed strong preferences for water play.

Where do adolescents prefer to be active in the summer?

When asked where they would ideally like to do physical activity, in and around the home were rated highly regardless of season, except for Latinos and White non-Hispanics. Other top choices of places to be active in summer varied across subgroups, although swimming pools were a top choice among Latinos, White non-Hispanics, and girls. Asian/Pacific Islanders and boys preferred indoor recreation facilities. American Indians’ top-rated location was parks outside the neighborhood.

Findings from this lay summary are available in the full article, published in Preventive Medicine:

Sallis, JF, Conway TL, Cain KL, Geremia C, Bonilla E, & Spoon C. Race/ethnic variations in school-year versus summer differences in adolescent physical activity. Preventive Medicine. 2019; 129.

Suggested Citation for Lay Summary:

Sallis JF, Conway TL, et al. Are Adolescents Less Physically Active in the Summer? What are Differences by Race, Ethnicity, and Sex? A Lay Summary. San Diego, CA: Physical Activity Research Center and University of California San Diego; 2019. Available at:

This lay summary was made possible with funding from the Physical Activity Research Center. The research that generated the lay summary was led by Drs. James F. Sallis and Terry L. Conway from the University of California San Diego.

Rural Play Streets Guide

Implementing Play Streets in Rural Communities

Download the Guide for free.

By: Keshia M. Pollack Porter, PhD, MPH, Johns Hopkins University and M. Renée Umstattd Meyer, PhD, MCHES, Baylor University

Originally posted to the Baylor University website.

Play Streets — place-based interventions that involve temporarily closing streets to create safe places and free opportunities for physical activity –are a great way to engage youth and families, get people active, and promote community connections. The Guide to Implementing Play Streets in Rural Communities provides guidance and recommendations to community groups, schools, faith-based institutions, or other organizations, on how to plan and put on a Play Street in rural communities based on first-hand experience from community partners in rural Maryland, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Texas.

What you will find in the Guide

The Guide is a terrific resource on how to adapt Play Streets from urban settings, where they are typically implemented, to rural settings, and informs each step of the implementation process: what happens before, during, and after a Play Street. The guide also includes examples and feedback from organizations that hosted Play Streets in rural communities, including challenges they faced and overcame, as well as resources like advertisement templates.

In addition to the Guide, you can also find the entire Post Play Streets Form and Template to help with evaluation.  Please feel free to download/use this form for your own Play Streets.

For more information, please contact Dr. M. Renée Umstattd Meyer at 254-710-4029 or

If you are interested in learning more about the research related with this project please reference the following scientific articles:

Bridges C. N., Prochnow T. M., Wilkins E. C., Pollack Porter K. M., & Umstattd Meyer M. R. (2019). Examining the implementation of Play Streets: A systematic review of the grey literature. Journal of Public Health Management & Practice.

Umstattd Meyer M. R., Bridges C. N., Schmid T. L., Hecht A. A., & Pollack Porter K. M. (2019). Documenting how Play Streets impact opportunities for play, physical activity, and environments: A systematic review. BMC Public Health, 19:335.

This guide was made possible with funding from the Physical Activity Research Center. The research that generated the guide was led by Drs. Keshia Pollack Porter from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and M. Renée Umstattd Meyer from Baylor University. Contributing authors to the guide included Christina Bridges Hamilton, Tyler Prochnow, Tom Schmid, Emily Wilkins, and ChangeLab Solutions.

Suggested Citation:
Pollack Porter KM, Umstattd Meyer MR, et al. Guide to Implementing Play Streets in Rural Communities. San Diego, CA: Physical Activity Research Center, Johns Hopkins University and Baylor University; 2019. Available at:

Connect with the Play Streets team on Facebook

Share how your community is using the Guide on Facebook at

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

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.

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.

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.