Kansas City Study: Parks in Lower-Income Neighborhoods Have More Problems Like Vandalism and Litter; Fewer Playgrounds

Kansas City Study: Parks in Lower-Income Neighborhoods Have More Problems Like Vandalism and Litter; Fewer Playgrounds

New Study Part of Special Journal Issue on Parks and Other Research on Physical Activity

Kansas City’s lower-income neighborhoods have more parks than other parts of the city, but the parks are likelier to have problems like vandalism, graffiti, and excessive litter, and less likely to have playgrounds, according to a new study in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine. The authors note that other studies show people are likelier to be physically active in higher-quality parks with amenities like playgrounds, and write that improving existing parks in lower-income neighborhoods could “help in leveling the playing field to combat the obesity crisis.”

This study was selected to appear in a special issue of the journal released in connection with the 10th annual Active Living Research conference, which will be held on February 26–28, 2013. Other studies in the issue focus on disparities in access to parks, participation in after-school sports programs, and other topics related to physical activity. For example:

  • Across the United States, neighborhoods with more Black and Hispanic residents have fewer parks. These findings are especially concerning because the childhood obesity epidemic is particularly severe in communities of color. This study also found that in cities and suburbs, lower-income neighborhoods had more accessible parks and green spaces, but the opposite was true in rural areas. See the study here.
  • After-school sports programs were more popular when participation was emphasized, rather than competition. More students participated in sports at schools offering intramural sports programs (which are participation-focused) than at schools offering interscholastic programs (which are competition-focused). This finding was true overall, and for lower-income and Black children. See the study here.
  • “These studies show that where you live has a big impact on your ability to be active,” said James Sallis, director of Active Living Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “They also reveal that neighborhoods with people at high risk for obesity could benefit from more and better parks.” 


The supplement, which was supported by the Foundation, includes studies that document promising and sustainable solutions for increasing physical activity and preventing obesity. Researchers from all over North America and several other countries are attending the Active Living Research meeting in San Diego, California, to discuss new findings and ways to inform future policies that have strong potential to help reverse the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic.

Articles from the supplement and more information about the conference are available online.

February 24, 2013
Date Updated: 
February, 2013