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Green space & parks

Health Factors: Diet & Exercise
Decision Makers: Community Development Professionals Local Government State Government Grantmakers Nonprofit Leaders
Evidence Rating: Some Evidence
Population Reach: 50-99% of WI's population
Impact on Disparities: Likely to decrease disparities

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Communities can increase green space and parks by creating new parks or open spaces, renovating or enhancing under-used recreation areas, or rehabilitating vacant lots, abandoned infrastructure, or brownfields. Rails to trails programs, brownfield redevelopment, community gardens, and park enhancements are examples of efforts to increase recreational green space, trails, and parks. Such efforts can be applied to spaces accessible by foot, bike, and other types of transportation, and are frequently implemented in low income neighborhoods.

Expected Beneficial Outcomes

Increased physical activity
Reduced obesity rates
Improved mental health
Reduced crime
Reduced stress
Improved birth outcomes

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is some evidence that increasing green space and parks increases physical activity (Ding 2011, Blanck 2012, TRB 2005, CDC MMWR-Khan 2009, Cohen 2012, Bassett 2013, AHA-Mozaffarian 2012Hunter 2015), especially among children and adolescents (Wolch 2011, Cohen 2006, Almanza 2012). Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Living in close proximity to green space and parks has been shown to lower childhood obesity rates, with larger effects for boys than girls (Wolch 2011), and to increase physical activity among both boys and girls (Cohen 2006, Ding 2011). Children’s moderate to vigorous activity levels appear to be greater outdoors than indoors (Dunton 2011). Access to green space may also increase physical activity levels for adults (Blanck 2012, TRB 2005, Tzoulas 2007).

Enhancing parks with outdoor exercise equipment can increase physical activity levels and new park users, and appears to be a cost-effective approach in densely populated areas with limited exercise facilities (Cohen 2012). Increasing green space and parks in conjunction with physical activity progams (Hunter 2015) and efforts to address potential safety and security concerns in surrounding communities may be more effective at increasing physical activity levels than increasing green space alone (TRB 2005).

Increasing green space, parks, and trails can have additional environmental and social benefits for communities (Sallis 2015). In some circumstances, proximity to green spaces has been shown to reduce socio-economic disparities, and has been associated with lower stress (Mitchell 2008, Tzoulas 2007, Shores 2008, Nielsen 2007), improved ADHD symptoms and mental health (Sallis 2015), and reductions in domestic violence and other crimes (UN IL-LHHL). In an Israel-based study, proximity to green space has been associated with increased birthweight and reduced risk of low birthweight, especially for low income mothers (Agay-Shay 2014). Living in neighborhoods with a high density of trees is also associated with improved health perceptions and health outcomes (Kardan 2015).


United States

Several states have taken action to increase green space and parks by supporting new recreational trails, as in Illinois, Minnesota, and Virginia. The Mississippi state legislature authorized the city of Pascagoula to use food tax revenue to implement a comprehensive parks and recreation master plan (NCSL Winterfeld-Obesity prevention 2014). Brownfields redevelopment (US EPA-Brownfields), community gardens (ACGA), and Rails to Trails programs are implemented to some degree in all 50 states (RTT).


A number of Wisconsin counties and municipalities have green space-related efforts underway. Several Wisconsin cities have received grants to renovate brownfields (WDNR-RR).

Implementation Resources

ALBD - Active Living by Design (ALBD). Increasing physical activity and healthy eating through community design. Accessed on May 17, 2018
CDC DNPAO-Data - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Division of Nutrition Physical Activity and Obesity (DNPAO). Nutrition, physical activity and obesity: Data, trends and maps online tool. Accessed on February 22, 2018
CDC-Park HIA toolkit - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Healthy places: Parks and trails health impact assessment (HIA) toolkit. Accessed on March 7, 2016
ChangeLab-Parks 2015 - ChangeLab Solutions. Complete parks playbook: The seven elements of a safe, connected, and healthy parks system. 2015. Accessed on March 7, 2016
HealthPartners-CHA - HealthPartners Institute for Education and Research. Community health advisor (CHA): Resource for information on the benefits of evidence-based policies and programs: Helping communities understand, analyze, and model costs. Accessed on October 29, 2018
LHC-Rockeymoore 2014 - Rockeymoore M, Moscetti C, Fountain A. Rural Childhood Obesity Prevention Toolkit. Leadership for Healthy Communities (LHC), Center for Global Policy Solutions, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 2014. Accessed on February 22, 2018
LHC-Toolkit 2009 - Leadership for Healthy Communities (LHC). Action strategies toolkit: A guide for local and state leaders working to create healthy communities and prevent childhood obesity. Princeton: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF); 2009. Accessed on November 10, 2017
NCPPA - National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity (NCPPA). About resources & reports. Accessed on November 9, 2017
PAS-Zoning 2016 - Planning Advisory Service (PAS). Planning & zoning for health in the built environment. American Planning Association (APA). 2016. Accessed on February 27, 2018
PFP-Physical activity - Partnership for Prevention (PFP). Places for physical activity: Facilitating development of a community trail and promoting its use to increase physical activity among youth and adults: An action guide. Washington, DC: Partnership for Prevention (PFP); 2008. Accessed on November 9, 2017
PolicyLink-Brownfields 2003 - PolicyLink: Equitable development toolkit: Brownfields. 2003. Accessed on March 7, 2016
TPL-Harnik 2011 - Harnik P, Welle B. From fitness zones to the medical mile: How urban park systems can best promote health and wellness. Washington, DC: Center for City Park Excellence (CCPE), Trust for Public Land (TPL); 2011. Accessed on May 24, 2016

Citations - Evidence

Agay-Shay 2014* - Agay-Shay K, Peled A, Crespo AV, et al. Green spaces and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 2014:1-8. Accessed on March 7, 2016
AHA-Mozaffarian 2012 - Mozaffarian D, Afshin A, Benowitz NL, et al. Population approaches to improve diet, physical activity, and smoking habits: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association (AHA). Circulation. 2012;126(12):1514–63. Accessed on September 26, 2018
Almanza 2012 - Almanza E, Jerrett M, Dunton G, Seto E, Pentz MA. A study of community design, greenness, and physical activity in children using satellite, GPS and accelerometer data. Health & Place. 2012;18(1):46–54. Accessed on May 23, 2017
Bassett 2013* - Bassett DR, Fitzhugh EC, Heath GW, et al. Estimated energy expenditures for school-based policies and active living. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2013;44(2):108-13. Accessed on February 22, 2018
Blanck 2012* - Blanck HM, Allen D, Bashir Z, et al. Let's go to the park today: the role of parks in obesity prevention and improving the public's health. Childhood Obesity. 2012;8(5):423-8. Accessed on December 1, 2015
CDC MMWR-Khan 2009 - Khan LK, Sobush K, Keener D, et al. Recommended community strategies and measurements to prevent obesity in the United States. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). 2009;58(RR-07):1-26. Accessed on May 10, 2017
Cohen 2006 - Cohen DA, Ashwood JS, Scott MM, et al. Public parks and physical activity among adolescent girls. Pediatrics. 2006;118(5):e1381-9. Accessed on January 11, 2016
Cohen 2012 - Cohen DA, Marsh T, Williamson S, Golinelli D, McKenzie TL. Impact and cost-effectiveness of family fitness zones: A natural experiment in urban public parks. Health & Place. 2012;18(1):39–45. Accessed on December 14, 2015
Ding 2011* - Ding D, Sallis JF, Kerr J, Lee S, Rosenberg DE. Neighborhood environment and physical activity among youth a review. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2011;41(4):442-55. Accessed on December 15, 2015
Dunton 2011 - Dunton GF, Liao Y, Intille S, Wolch J, Pentz MA. Physical and social contextual influences on children’s leisure-time physical activity: An ecological momentary assessment study. Journal of Physical Activity and Health. 2011;8(Suppl 1):103–8. Accessed on January 20, 2016
Hunter 2015* - Hunter RF, Christian H, Veitch J, et al. The impact of interventions to promote physical activity in urban green space: A systematic review and recommendations for future research. Social Science & Medicine. 2015;124:246-256. Accessed on March 7, 2016
Kardan 2015 - Kardan O, Gozdyra P, Misic B, et al. Neighborhood greenspace and health in a large urban center. Scientific Reports. 2015;5(11610):1-14. Accessed on March 7, 2016
Mitchell 2008* - Mitchell R, Popham F. Effect of exposure to natural environment on health inequalities: An observational population study. Lancet. 2008;372(9650);1655-60. Accessed on March 3, 2016
Nielsen 2007* - Nielsen TS, Hansen KB. Do green areas affect health? Results from a Danish survey on the use of green areas and health indicators. Health & Place. 2007;13(4):839-50. Accessed on March 3, 2016
Sallis 2015 - Sallis JF, Spoon C, Cavill N, et al. Co-benefits of designing communities for active living: An exploration of literature. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 2015;12(1):1–10. Accessed on November 10, 2017
Shores 2008* - Shores KA, West ST. The relationship between built park environments and physical activity in four park locations. Journal of Public Health Management and Practice. 2008;14(3):e9-16. Accessed on May 20, 2016
TRB 2005 - Committee on Physical Activity, Health, Transportation, and Land Use. Does the built environment influence physical activity? Examining the evidence. Washington, DC: Transportation Research Board (TRB), Institute of Medicine (IOM), National Academy of Sciences; 2005: TRB Special Report 282. Accessed on February 23, 2018
Tzoulas 2007* - Tzoulas K, Kalevi K, Venn S, et al. Promoting ecosystem and human health in urban areas using Green Infrastructure: A literature review. Landscape and Urban Planning. 2007;81(3):167-78. Accessed on November 9, 2015
UN IL-LHHL - University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UN IL). Landscape and Human Health Laboratory (LHHL). Accessed on December 7, 2017
Wolch 2011* - Wolch J, Jerrett M, Reynolds K, et al. Childhood obesity and proximity to urban parks and recreational resources: A longitudinal cohort study. Health & Place. 2011;17(1):207-14. Accessed on November 23, 2015

Citations - Implementation

ACGA - American Community Gardening Association (ACGA). Locate your nearest community garden. Accessed on November 11, 2017
NCSL Winterfeld-Obesity prevention 2014 - Winterfeld A. State actions to reduce and prevent childhood obesity in schools and communities: Summary and analysis of trends in legislation. National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL). 2014. Accessed on February 22, 2018
RTT - Rails to Trails Conservancy. Inspiring movement. Accessed on May 24, 2016
US EPA-Brownfields - US Environmental Protections Agency (US EPA). State brownfields programs. Accessed on March 16, 2017
WDNR-RR - Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR). Wisconsin’s remediation and redevelopment program - A national model. Accessed on January 27, 2016

Page Last Updated

September 1, 2015

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