Communities Working to Reduce Childhood Obesity
If You Build It, Will They Come? The University of Illinois Prevention Research Center examines reducing childhood obesity through community involvement and playground renovations.
In Chicago, Illinois, research shows that half of all the children are obese.1Children who are physically active every day are less likely to develop chronic diseases as adults, including obesity. To address this problem, a new park improvement project helped get communities involved to improve areas for play and activity. In fact, one study shows a 61% increase in park use and a 37% increase in physical activity after the renovation of a group of parks.
A 2-year study of the Chicago public parks by the University of Illinois Prevention Research Center (PRC) revealed that 300 playgrounds were in poor condition. These playgrounds qualified for funding from the Chicago Park District under its newly created Chicago Plays! program. The program’s goal was to empower residents to improve their neighborhood and health. The renovated parks saw increased park use and physical activity among children and their families.
To achieve this, the Chicago Park District and Friends of the Park took applications to determine which parks to renovate. The University of Illinois PRC partnered with the groups to evaluate the project impact. An important part of the selection process included a show of commitment from local neighborhoods.
Next, church groups, block groups, and park advisory councils laced up their sneakers and went door-to-door gathering signatures for support. After park award announcements, volunteers collected feedback from residents. Suggestions included plans for:
- Playground design.
- New equipment Installation.
- On-going maintenance.
Residents then cast their votes about the park plans through social media and face-to-face meetings in parks and churches. Community efforts also included park clean-up days.
If You Build It Will They Come?
The study looked at 39 of the park and playground renovation projects in diverse neighborhoods throughout Chicago. After renovation, these parks were compared with 39 parks that were not renovated to see which parks were used more. They monitored park use on weekdays and weekends from July through October after the renovations and again 12 months later.
Bottom Line Impact
The renovated parks were used 61% more than the parks that were not renovated. Visitors’ physical activity increased by 37% at the renovated parks, while there was only an 11% increase in the older parks. Renovating playgrounds with community involvement can have a big effect on park use and physical activity. Those making park and playground renovations in Chicago and other urban cities across the country can use this effective model.