The United States lacks surveillance to monitor park use and conditions. The purpose of this study was to use the System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC) as a surveillance tool to describe the conditions, user characteristics, and physical activity of a national sample of neighborhood parks at two time points. Using a stratified multistage sampling strategy, a representative sample of 174 neighborhood parks in 25 major United States' cities were selected. During 2014 and 2016, park-related use, conditions, and physical activity were assessed using SOPARC in 169 parks. Overall, 74,106 park users were observed at baseline and 69,150 park users were observed two years later (p = 0.37). There were persistent disparities in park use by gender and age, with disproportionately more male than female users in each age group (child, teenager, adult, older adult). Older adults used the park less than other age groups. Almost two-thirds of park users were observed being sedentary (61.9% in 2014, 60.7% in 2016), followed by moderate (30.8%, 32.0%) and vigorous (7.3%, 7.3%) activity. Empty target areas increased over two years (75.3%, 77.6%; p = 0.01) and those that were equipped (2.6%, 1.2%; p = 0.0003), accessible (95.4%, 94.3%; p = 0.01), and organized (2.6%, 1.7%; p = 0.01) decreased. Areas that were usable (97.5%, 97.4%) or provided supervised activities (2.0%, 2.4%) did not change significantly. The findings demonstrate the value of SOPARC as a surveillance tool, identify user groups under represented at parks, and suggest an opportunity to encourage more park-based physical activity among park visitors.
Keywords: Environment; Parks and recreation; Physical activity; Sedentary behavior; Surveillance.
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