There are many health benefits to outdoor physical activity (PA). However, the ability of public parks to provide PA options for those most vulnerable during pandemic-related public health restrictions is unknown. PURPOSE: To examine how COVID-19 has affected the use of public parks in Los Angeles and the resulting PA of park goers. METHODS: A total of 8 public parks (4 low income (LI), 2 medium income (MI), 2 high income (HI)) (N= 5864) were observed using the System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC) tool between October 2020 and July 2021. Activity zones were assigned an activity score based on the number of park goers engaged in sedentary, moderate, or vigorous PA. Park goers were also surveyed about their PA habits (n=84). Data was combined with similar data collected during 2009 prior to analysis in SPSS to determine the impacts of pandemic stages on PA behaviors across demographics. RESULTS: Parks were visited more frequently in 2009 (3.2±0.15 visits/week) and 2021 (3.2±0.21) compared to 2020 (2.5±0.23), p<.05. More children and teens were observed in larger and greener MI and HI compared to LI parks which were overrun by homeless encampments. An interaction effect between income, COVID-19 restrictions, and age-group was discovered for activity score (p<.05). Activity scores for all age-groups in MI and HI and for children in LI parks were highest during the peak of the pandemic. In LI parks, activity scores for adult and elderly park goers were not affected by changing restriction levels and were generally lower (adults: 1.5±.03; elderly: 1.4±.04) compared to MI (adults: 1.5±.03; elderly: 1.5±.08) and HI (adults:1.6±.04; elderly: 1.8± .08) parks. In 2020, a higher percentage of MI (38.1%) and HI (29.2%) survey respondents reported meeting the ACSM PA guidelines than LI (13.9%) participants but were less reliant on public parks for accumulation of all daily MVPA minutes (LI: 77.8%, MI: 41.5%, HI: 14.9%). CONCLUSION: The results of this study support previous conclusions about income-based PA disparities. Results suggest that public parks in higher income neighborhoods continually provide residents with safe, health-promoting PA opportunities. However, during a public health crisis, PA inactivity levels are exacerbated in low income neighborhoods due, in-part, to park shortfalls.
Knapp, Brenna E. and Raney, Marcella
"COVID-19 Induced Changes in Physical Activity at Public Parks in Los Angeles County,"
International Journal of Exercise Science: Conference Proceedings: Vol. 14:
1, Article 4.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.wku.edu/ijesab/vol14/iss1/4