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Houston, TX 77204-5017 Fax: 713.743.8199

October 25, 2005

Contact: Marisa Ramirez
713.743.8152 (office)
713.204.9798 (cell)

PARA Evaluates Quantity and Quality of Recreational Choices

HOUSTON, October 25, 2005—A new assessment tool, developed by a University of Houston professor, measures the quality and quantity of physical activity resources available in neighborhoods and could provide information to urban planners as they create new living areas.

The Physical Activity Resource Assessment (PARA) instrument is a survey that rates the number of physical activity resources in a neighborhood, the quality of the resources and the accessibility to residents. Forty-nine descriptions are rated on a scale of 0 to 3, with 3 being good.

“Given the consistently low rates of physical activity in the United States it is important to develop an understanding of neighborhood factors that influence physical activity,” Rebecca Lee, professor in the UH Health and Human Performance Department and lead investigator of the assessment, said. “Our research found that if you are living in a poor area, the quality of physical activity resources decrease dramatically.”

Lee’s study, “Evaluating Features, Amenities and Incivilities of Physical Activity Resources in Urban Neighborhoods,” used the PARA to survey the physical activity resources in 13 low-income neighborhoods in Kansas City area. She compared the findings to four higher-income neighborhoods that were similar in population, density and design. She found that low-income neighborhoods had on average two fewer resources (parks, community centers, school yards) than those in the comparison neighborhoods and that “incivilities”—lack of paint, trash, no growing grass, too much grass, unkempt curbs, wandering dogs—were more significant.

“You may be more likely to walk if there is a park nearby, if it is not littered with trash and if you feel safe,” Lee said. “My previous research has found that there are fewer nutritious food choices in lower income neighborhoods, so to couple that with the finding that the number and quality of places to exercise in low income neighborhoods are poor should be cause for alarm.”

City planners in Atlanta will use PARA to survey their parks next year. Lee adds that she is hopeful other urban planners will take note as they create new living spaces and pay particular attention to quality of leisure space.

Lee’s study is published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

For more information on the UH Health and Human Performance Department, visit www.hhp.uh.edu/.

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