The objectives of this study were: 1) To determine factors which inhibit and facilitate child and adolescent use of outdoor spaces for healthy physical activity by race and ethnicity in four Houston communities and 2) To propose guidelines for encouraging and maintaining child and adolescent outdoor physical activity. Using local health data and Houston Police Department crime statistics, four communities were identified for the study that had the highest concentration of crime and the racial/ ethnic groups of interest.

The researchers then identified public parks in the communities. At least two parks were observed in each of the four communities from 2010 to 2011 during spring, summer, fall and winter. The parks were observed for use by children and adolescents and to describe the condition of the park spaces. The communities were Alief (Asian), Sunnyside (Black), Eldridge- West Oaks (White) and Northside- Northline (Hispanic). Observations were made at varying hours of both day and night, weekdays and weekends. Photographs were taken and the condition of the spaces noted in detail. One hundred and twenty persons, 18 years and over, using the spaces or otherwise in these communities were conveniently sampled and interviewed about their health and the extent to which they, or any children or adolescents under their care, used the outdoor spaces of interest. Data were analyzed qualitatively and with basic descriptive statistics. The photographs, journal notes and observation notes of all investigators and key personnel were analyzed. Interview data were also coded to identify patterns and themes in the responses.

The findings indicate disparities in the quality and quantity of park equipment and the maintenance of the areas. Where perceptions of disorder were described, there was often visible evidence to support the perceptions. In many cases, residents' perceptions of crime were corroborated by police data. While interview reports did not seem to support the expectation that the condition of the parks was a significant deterrent to their use by children and adolescents, the condition of the parks might be said to limit the extent of that use. Specific reports of disorder that inhibited use included hearing gunfire, seeing drug dependent homeless persons and/or suspected prostitutes in an area.

Key Take Away Points

1. The use of public parks was environmentally influenced in that an awareness of local crimes and observations of specific disorder curtailed persons’ use of public park areas

2. Curtailed use of public parks was more likely to be attributed to both mental and physical exhaustion in the Black community under observation than other areas.

3. Not having another adult in the home increased the likelihood of circumstances related to family socioeconomics that inhibited use of public park spaces.

Author Biography

Camille Gibson is Associate Professor in the Department of Justice Studies in the College of Juvenile Justice & Psychology at Prairie View A&M University. She is the author of Being Real: Student Teacher Relationships and African American Male Delinquency and co-author of Juvenile Sex Offenders: What the Public Needs to Know. Both books focus on the impact of various environments on the lives of children and adolescents.

Myrna Cintron is an Associate Professor and Department Head in the Department of Justice Studies, College of Juvenile Justice & Psychology at Prairie View A&M University. She teaches in the Juvenile Justice doctoral program. She has published extensively on various aspects of the Hispanic community including Hispanic gangs (a topic that she teaches at the doctoral level) and the Hispanic workforce. Marika Dawkins is a doctoral student of Juvenile Justice at Prairie View A&M University. She has published on juvenile gangs in Houston, international crimes and race and justice issues. Grace Asanaenyi is a recent graduate of Prairie View A&M University with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science. She now works with the Internal Revenue Service.


Funded by a grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), 1P20MD0002295 administered through the Center for Community Health Development, Texas A&M Health Science Center, School of Rural Public Health.