Link park access with obesity risk reduction : case study of Austin, Texas




Gentles, Coleen Elaine

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Previous research has determined that public transportation options are severely limited in certain neighborhoods. These so-called “transit deserts” prevent many residents from relying on public transportation to get to and from home and work. But is access to public parks any better? As cities continue to reinvest in their public parks, residents will be motivated to visit them, so long as all modes of transportation are available: walking, bicycling, driving, and bus routes/rail lines for public transportation. And if the bus routes and rail lines ran frequently with actual stops near the parks, that would be even better. This project examined the overlay of mean childhood obesity scores and Austin city parks data, including distance from bus stops to park centers using GIS, correlation and regression methods. The park amenity data was multiplied by a standard MET (metabolic equivalent) value. Maps were created to spatially show the relationships between city parks, transit routes, and obesity scores in block groups. The results revealed that Austin city parks and bus routes are spread throughout the city. The outskirts of Austin lack public parks but the bus routes extend further than the city park system. But only 61% of Austin city parks are reached within a quarter-mile bus stop service area. The obesity data revealed a wide range in mean childhood obesity levels, from 7% in West Austin to 47% in East Austin. Sixteen neighborhood parks are located within a quarter-mile bus stop service area and high childhood obesity block groups. There is, however, no correlation between block group obesity scores, distance from bus stops to neighborhood parks, park amenity scores, and park acreage. Although the data does not show a correlation between the presence of neighborhood park amenities and estimated obesity rates for children, peer reviewed studies have made this connection. Even though the statistical analysis does not show that park access by transit explains childhood obesity prevalence, park access does matter, and policy makers should pay attention to more than just park amenities. Improving access to parks may increase use, thus reducing childhood obesity trends in the long term.


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