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Open Access Research

Correspondence of perceived vs. objective proximity to parks and their relationship to park-based physical activity

Kelsey J Lackey and Andrew T Kaczynski*

Author Affiliations

Department of Kinesiology, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS, USA

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2009, 6:53  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-6-53

Published: 11 August 2009

Abstract

Background

Parks are key environmental resources for encouraging population-level physical activity (PA). In measuring availability of parks, studies have employed both self-reported and objective indicators of proximity, with little correspondence observed between these two types of measures. However, little research has examined how the degree of correspondence between self-reported and objectively-measured distance to parks is influenced by individual, neighborhood, and park-related variables, or which type of measure is more strongly related to physical activity outcomes.

Methods

We used data from 574 respondents who reported the distance to their closest park and compared this with objective measurements of proximity to the closest park. Both indicators were dichotomized as having or not having a park within 750 m. Audits of all park features within this distance were also conducted and other personal characteristics and neighborhood context variables (safety, connectedness, aesthetics) were gleaned from participants' survey responses. Participants also completed detailed seven-day PA log booklets from which measures of neighborhood-based and park-based PA were derived.

Results

Agreement was poor in that only 18% of respondents achieved a match between perceived and objective proximity to the closest park (kappa = 0.01). Agreement was higher among certain subgroups, especially those who reported engaging in at least some park-based PA. As well, respondents with a greater number of parks nearby, whose closest park had more features, and whose closest park contained a playground or wooded area were more likely to achieve a match. Having a ball diamond or soccer field in the closest park was negatively related to achieving a match between perceived and objective proximity. Finally, engaging in at least some park-based PA was not related to either perceived or objective proximity to a park, but was more likely when a match between and perceived and objective proximity occurred.

Conclusion

Poor levels of correspondence were observed between self-reported and objective proximity to parks, but certain individual, neighborhood, and park variables increased the likelihood of a participant being aware of local parks. Future research should examine how people conceptualize parks and what urban and park planners can do to increase awareness and use of these community assets.