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Quantifying the Contribution of Public Parks to Physical Activity and Health

Because public parks contribute to health and well-being, primarily by serving as an important venue for physical activity, it is in the best interests of park administrators to have a method to measure this contribution. While parks offer health benefits beyond physical activity, physical activity can be objectively measured and is an excellent way to demonstrate the value of parks. Nearly 11 percent of all deaths and a significant proportion of chronic conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, among Americans are directly attributable to physical inactivity.
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While parks offer health benefits beyond physical activity, physical activity can be objectively measured and is an excellent way to demonstrate the value of parks. This paper introduces the System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC), a reliable, valid, and easy - to - use tool for quantifying park use and park - based physical activity.

SOPARC requires mapping parks into distinct target areas and establishing a systematic way to rotate through the park so that all persons in every target area can be counted by gender, age group, and activity level. When done multiple times during the week on different days and at different times, the results can be aggregated to provide a generalizable picture of park use and the level of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity that occurs within the park boundaries.

Repeating these assessments over time can allow park administrators to evaluate the impact of policies, programs, and park improvements on park use, capturing the number, characteristics, and activity level of park users who visit parks but do not formally enroll in park - sponsored programs.

SOPARC also assesses the characteristics of the activity spaces in the parks, providing insights into park features that can attract users and support physical activity. Park administrators should understand how to use SOPARC so that they can collect data that justifies expenditures in parks and recreation departments.

This publication details what SOPARC is and how it is used, as well as providing background information on the importance of physical activity to health.


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Last modified by Gayle Diehl

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