Reason for Ranking
Increased physical activity is associated with lower risks of type 2 diabetes, cancer, stroke, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and premature mortality, independent of obesity. The role of the built environment is important for encouraging physical activity. Individuals who live closer to sidewalks, parks, and gyms are more likely to exercise.[1-3]
Measurement Strengths and Limitations
This is the first national measure created which captures the many places where individuals have the opportunity to participate in physical activity outside of their homes. However, it is not without several limitations.
First, no dataset accurately captures all the possible locations for physical activity within a county. One location for physical activity that is not included in this measure are sidewalks, which serve as common locations for running or walking. Additionally, not all locations for physical activity are identified by their primary or secondary business code. For example, malls frequently have walking clubs, and schools may have open gyms for community members.
Second, although a county may contain a park or recreational facility, there may still be barriers to using the facility for exercise. Cost can be a barrier as many facilities charge user fees and parks may charge entrance fees. Additionally, even if census blocks contain a park, the entrance may be far or may require crossing a busy street. The buffers chosen include straight line distances, yet the street network and design can impact whether a park is truly accessible by multi-modal transportation.
Finally, the buffers used in this measure were chosen based on an estimation of a 5-10 minute walk to a park and a 5-10 minute drive to a recreational facility. Very few studies exist using distances to recreational facilities, and fewer still include rural communities. Different buffer distances may be appropriate for different communities. In a more walkable community people may travel further than ½ mile to a park, but in some communities ½ mile might be viewed as too far. An additional limitation is that all parks are included, regardless of the amenities they do or do not include. Finally, the measure definition was changed in 2017 because NAICS codes were no longer available.