How Does Park Use and Physical Activity Differ between Childhood and Adolescence? A Focus on Gender and Race-Ethnicity

  • Oriol MarquetEmail author
  • J. Aaron Hipp
  • Claudia Alberico
  • Jing-Huei Huang
  • Elizabeth Mazak
  • Dustin Fry
  • Gina S. Lovasi
  • Myron F. Floyd


Physical activity typically declines between childhood and adolescence. Despite urban parks being a great venue for physical activity, children change both the frequency of park use and their park use habits as they age into adolescence. However, little is known about how these differences vary by gender and how distinct race/ethnicity groups differentially change their park habits. This study analyzed the differences in park use and per capita energy expenditure between children and teenagers of different gender and race/ethnicity backgrounds. Using the System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC), systematic observations were conducted in 20 New York City parks in 2017, located in low-income areas with high presence of Latino or Asian residents. A total of 9963 scans in 167 distinct target areas counted 16,602 children (5–10 years old) and 11,269 teenagers (11 or older). Using adjusted marginal means, we estimated the number of park users of each age range, gender, and race/ethnicity expected to be found in each park activity setting. Teenagers of both genders and most race/ethnicity groups were less likely to be in a park and had lower per capita energy expenditure, compared with children. The difference in park attendance was greater than the difference in per capita energy expenditure. Dissimilarities were clearly gendered and race/ethnicity dependent. Asian and Latino females showed the greatest divergence between childhood and adolescence. African American boys were the only group to show a positive age contrast in park attendance and per capita energy expenditure.


Park use Park physical activity Children Teenagers Race-ethnicity SOPARC 



The authors would like to thank the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, for their collaboration, and the team of observers from Columbia University that assisted in data collection. Ethics approval for the project Physical Activity and Recreation in Children in Communities of Color was granted by the NC State University, Review Board for the Protection of Human Subjects in Research (ref. 9376). This project was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through the Physical Activity Research Center (2016-2953). OM had a Juan de la Cierva contract from the Spanish Ministry of Economy Industry and Competitiveness (FJCI 2016-28975).


  1. 1.
    Brooks F, Magnusson J. Physical activity as leisure: the meaning of physical activity for the health and well-being of adolescent women. Health Care Women Int. 2007;28(1):69–87. Scholar
  2. 2.
    Raudsepp L, Viira R. Changes in physical activity in adolescent girls: a latent growth modelling approach. Acta Paediatr. 2008;97(5):647–52. Scholar
  3. 3.
    Weinsier RL, Hunter GR, Heini AF, Goran MI, Sell SM. The etiology of obesity: relative contribution of metabolic factors, diet, and physical activity. Am J Med. 1998;105(2):145–50. Scholar
  4. 4.
    Han B, Cohen DA, McKenzie TL. Quantifying the contribution of neighborhood parks to physical activity. Prev Med (Baltim). 2013;57(5):483–7. Scholar
  5. 5.
    Wheeler BW, Cooper AR, Page AS, Jago R. Greenspace and children’s physical activity: a GPS/GIS analysis of the PEACH project. Prev Med (Baltim). 2010;51(2):148–52. Scholar
  6. 6.
    Larson LR, Green GT, Cordell HK. Children’s time outdoors: results and implications of the National Kids Survey. J Park Recreat Adm. 2011;29(2):1–20.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Fakhouri THI, Hughes JP, Burt VL, Song M, Fulton JE, Ogden CL. Physical activity in U.S. youth aged 12-15 years, 2012. NCHS Data Brief. 2014;167(141):1–8. Scholar
  8. 8.
    Witmer L, Bocarro JN, Henderson K. Adolescent girls’ perception of health within a leisure context. J Leis Res. 2011;43(3):334–54. Scholar
  9. 9.
    Kaczynski AT, Potwarka LR, Saelens BE. Association of park size, distance, and features with physical activity in neighborhood parks. Am J Public Health. 2008;98(8):1451–6. Scholar
  10. 10.
    Bancroft C, Joshi S, Rundle A, Hutson M, Chong C, Weiss CC, et al. Association of proximity and density of parks and objectively measured physical activity in the United States: a systematic review. Soc Sci Med. 2015;138:22–30. Scholar
  11. 11.
    Besenyi GM, Kaczynski AT, Wilhelm Stanis SA, Vaughan KB. Demographic variations in observed energy expenditure across park activity areas. Prev Med (Baltim). 2013;56(1):79–81. Scholar
  12. 12.
    Nasar JL, Holloman CH. Playground characteristics to encourage children to visit and play. J Phys Act Health. 2013;10:1201–8. Scholar
  13. 13.
    Roman CG, Stodolska M, Yahner J, Shinew K. Pathways to outdoor recreation, physical activity, and delinquency among urban Latino adolescents. Ann Behav Med. 2013;45(SUPPL.1)
  14. 14.
    Sanders T, Feng X, Fahey PP, Lonsdale C, Astell-Burt T. The influence of neighbourhood green space on children’s physical activity and screen time: findings from the longitudinal study of Australian children. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2015;12(1)
  15. 15.
    Spengler JO, Floyd MF, Maddock JE, Gobster PH, Suau LJ, Norman GJ. Correlates of park-based physical activity among children in diverse communities: results from an observational study in two cities. Am J Health Promot. 2011;25(5):1–10. Scholar
  16. 16.
    Whiting JW, Larson LR, Green GT, Kralowec C. Outdoor recreation motivation and site preferences across diverse racial/ethnic groups: a case study of Georgia state parks. J Outdoor Recreat Tour. 2017;18(February):10–21. Scholar
  17. 17.
    Derose KP, Han B, Williamson S, Cohen DA. Racial-ethnic variation in park use and physical activity in the city of Los Angeles. J Urban Health. 2015;92(6):1011–23. Scholar
  18. 18.
    Cohen DA, Ashwood JS, Scott MM, Overton A, Evenson KR, Staten LK, et al. Public parks and physical activity among adolescent girls. Pediatrics. 2006;118(5):e1381–9. Scholar
  19. 19.
    Derose KP, Han B, Williamson S, Cohen DA. Gender disparities in park use and physical activity among residents of high-poverty neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Womens Health Issues. 2017;28(1):6–13. Scholar
  20. 20.
    Messiah SE, D’Agostino EM, Patel HH, Hansen E, Mathew MS, Arheart KL. Sex differences in fitness outcomes among minority youth after participation in a park-based after-school program. Ann Epidemiol. 2018;28(7):432–9. Scholar
  21. 21.
    Cronan MK, Shinew KJ, Schneider I, Stanis S a W, Chavez D. Physical activity patterns and preferences among Latinos in different types of public parks. J Phys Act Health 2008;5(6):894–908. doi:
  22. 22.
    Casper JM, Harrolle MG. Perceptions of constraints to leisure time physical activity among Latinos in Wake County, NC. Am J Health Promot. 2013;27(3):139–42. Scholar
  23. 23.
    Das KV, Fan Y, French SA. Park-use behavior and perceptions by race, Hispanic origin, and immigrant status in Minneapolis, MN: implications on park strategies for addressing health disparities. J Immigr Minor Health. 2017;19(2):318–27. Scholar
  24. 24.
    Payne LL, Mowen AJ, Orsega-smith E, Orsega-smith E. An examination of park preferences and behaviors among urban residents : the role of residential location, race, and age. 2002;(912280237):181–198. doi:
  25. 25.
    Carlson SA, Brooks JD, Brown DR, Buchner DM. Racial/ethnic differences in perceived access, environmental barriers to use, and use of community parks. Prev Chronic Dis. 2010;7(3):A49.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Vaughan CA, Cohen DA, Han B. How do racial/ethnic groups differ in their use of neighborhood parks? Findings from the national study of neighborhood parks. J Urban Health. 2018;95:1–11. Scholar
  27. 27.
    Chung-Do JJ, Davis E, Lee S, Jokura Y, Choy L, Maddock JE. An observational study of physical activity in parks in Asian and Pacific Islander communities in urban Honolulu, Hawaii, 2009. Prev Chronic Dis. 2011;8(5):A107.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Nicksic NE, Salahuddin M, Butte NF, Hoelscher DM. Associations between parent-perceived neighborhood safety and encouragement and child outdoor physical activity among low-income children. J Phys Act Health. 2018;15(1):317–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Larson L, Whiting JW, Green GT, Bowker JM. Physical activity levels and preferences of ethnically diverse visitors to Georgia state parks. J Leis Res. 2014;46(5):540–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Reed JA, Hooker SP. Where are youth physically active? A descriptive examination of 45 parks in a southeastern community. Child Obes. 2012;8(2):124–31. Scholar
  31. 31.
    Marquet O, Hipp JA, Alberico C, et al. Park use preferences and physical activity among ethnic minority children in low-income neighborhoods in New York City. Urban For Urban Green. 2019;38:346–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    McKenzie TL, Cohen DA, Sehgal A, Williamson S, Golinelli D. System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC): reliability and feasibility measures. J Phys Act Health. 2006;3(s1):S208–22. Scholar
  33. 33.
    Ramos WD, Chen YL, Kang S. Physical activity levels and pattern of use for youth participants at a traditional aquatic venue. Prev Med Rep. 2017;6:177–81. Scholar
  34. 34.
    Chow BC, McKenzie TL, Sit CHP. Public parks in Hong Kong: characteristics of physical activity areas and their users. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2016;13(7)
  35. 35.
    Edwards N, Hooper P, Knuiman M, Foster S, Giles-Corti B. Associations between park features and adolescent park use for physical activity. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2015;12(1):21. Scholar
  36. 36.
    Wilbur J, Chandler P, Dancy B, Choi J, Plonczynsky D. Environmental, policy, and cultural factors related to physical activity in well-educated urban African American women. Women Health 2002;36(2):17–28. doi:
  37. 37.
    Cohen DA, Han B, Derose KP, Williamson S, Marsh T, Rudick J, et al. Neighborhood poverty, park use, and park-based physical activity in a Southern California city. Soc Sci Med. 2012;75(12):2317–25. Scholar
  38. 38.
    Ries AV, Voorhees CC, Roche KM, Gittelsohn J, Yan AF, Astone NM. A quantitative examination of park characteristics related to park use and physical activity among urban youth. J Adolesc Health. 2009;45(3 SUPPL):S64–70. Scholar
  39. 39.
    Floyd MF, Bocarro JN, Smith WR, Baran PK, Moore RC, Cosco NG, et al. Park-based physical activity among children and adolescents. Am J Prev Med. 2011;41(3):258–65. Scholar
  40. 40.
    Slater S, Fitzgibbon M, Floyd MF. Urban adolescents’ perceptions of their neighborhood physical activity environments. Leis Sci. 2013;35(2):167–83. Scholar
  41. 41.
    Loukaitou-Sideris A, Sideris A. What brings children to the park? J Am Plan Assoc. 2010;76(1):89–107. Scholar
  42. 42.
    Marquet O, Hipp JA, Alberico C, Huang JH, Fry D, Mazak E, et al. Short-term associations between objective crime, park-use, and park-based physical activity in low-income neighborhoods. Prev Med (Baltim). 2019;126(December 2018):105735. Scholar
  43. 43.
    Turner RW, Perrin EM, Coyne-Beasley T, Peterson CJ, Skinner AC. Reported sports participation, race, sex, ethnicity, and obesity in US adolescents from NHANES Physical Activity (PAQ_D). Glob Pediatr Heal. 2015;2:2333794X1557794. Scholar
  44. 44.
    Groshong L, Wilhelm Stanis SA, Kaczynski AT, Hipp JA, Besenvi GM. Exploring attitudes, perceived norms, and personal agency: insights into theory-based messages to encourage park-based physical activity in low-income urban neighborhoods. J Phys Act Health. 2016;11:1–44. Scholar
  45. 45.
    Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Lawman HG, Fryar CD, Kruszon-Moran D, Kit BK, et al. Trends in obesity prevalence among children and adolescents in the United States, 1988-1994 through 2013-2014. JAMA - J Am Med Assoc. 2016;315(21):2292–9. Scholar
  46. 46.
    Neumark-Sztainer D, Croll J, Story M, Hannan PJ, French SA, Perry C. Ethnic/racial differences in weight- related concerns and behaviors among adolescent girls and boys-findings from Project EAT. J Psychosom Res. 2002;53:963–74. Scholar
  47. 47.
    Gordon-Larsen P, Adair LS, Popkin BM. The relationship of ethnicity, socioeconomic factors, and overweight in U.S. adolescents. Obesity. 2003;11(1):121–9. Scholar
  48. 48.
    Eisenmann JC, Gundersen C, Lohman BJ, Garasky S, Stewart SD. Is food insecurity related to overweight and obesity in children and adolescents? A summary of studies, 1995-2009. Obes Rev. 2011;12(501):73–83. Scholar
  49. 49.
    Krueger PM, Reither EN. Mind the gap: race/ethnic and socioeconomic disparities in obesity. Curr Diab Rep. 2015;15(11)
  50. 50.
    Fennell C, Glickman EL, Lepp A, Kingsley JD, Barkley JE. The relationship between cell phone use, physical activity, and sedentary behavior in adults above college-age. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2017;49(4):561. Scholar
  51. 51.
    Carson V, Staiano AE, Katzmarzyk PT. Physical activity, screen time, and sitting among U.S. adolescents. Pediatr Exerc Sci. 2014;27(1):151–9. Scholar
  52. 52.
    Henry J Kaiser Foundation. Generation M2. Media in the lives of 8 to 18 year olds. 2010; Menlo Park, California 2010.Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Cohen DA, Marsh T, Williamson S, et al. Parks and physical activity: why are some parks used more than others? Prev Med (Baltim). 2010;50(SUPPL):S9–S12. Scholar
  54. 54.
    Wilson JP, Hugenberg K, Rule NO. Racial bias in judgments of physical size and formidability: from size to threat. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2017;113(1):59–80. Scholar
  55. 55.
    Goff PA, Jackson MC, Di Leone BAL, Culotta CM, DiTomasso NA. The essence of innocence: consequences of dehumanizing black children. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2014;106(4):526–45. Scholar

Copyright information

© The New York Academy of Medicine 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism ManagementNC State UniversityRaleighUSA
  2. 2.Center for Geospatial AnalyticsNC State UniversityRaleighUSA
  3. 3.ISGlobal (Barcelona Institute for Global Health)BarcelonaSpain
  4. 4.Dornsife School of Public HealthDrexel UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA
  5. 5.Mailman School of Public Health, Department of EpidemiologyColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations