Environmental Studies Program


Date of this Version

Spring 5-2011


In order to better understand the role community design plays in obesity rates, this project studies a potential relationship between distance of parks from homes and obesity rates in four Nebraska counties. Park use may contribute to important health benefits, such as reducing risk of obesity by increasing physical activity levels. There are limitations to park use, such as crime rates and facility upkeep that are important to understand so that they might be managed and communities can reap greater benefits from their parks, including better fitness. This study examines park distance from homes as a potential limiting factor to park usability. The Nebraska Counties of Adams, Douglas, Lancaster and Lincoln are the subjects of this study. It is predicted that the distance between parks and homes will be greatest in rural counties of Adams and Lincoln and that obesity will be highest there too. An index of parks was created for each county then the distance between each park and the four nearest homes was measured. This information was analyzed and compared with obesity rates of these counties. Obesity and demographic information were obtained from resources of county health departments, the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) Behvioral Risk Factor Survelliance System (BRFSS) (2010), the Census Bureau (2011), Healthy Americans (2011) and the UNMC Rural Health Works (2009) research branch. According to Selected Metropolitan/ Micropolitan Area Risk Trends (SMART), the percentage of obese residents in Adams, Douglas, Lancaster and Lincoln counties are: 30.5, 26.6, 24.4 and 29, respectively. Parks were on average further from homes in rural counties, but the only significant difference in distance was with Lincoln County, where parks were on average more than a mile further from homes than was recorded in any other county. On average, parks in Douglas County are the closest to homes and parks in Lincoln County are the furthest from homes. Lincoln County reported the worst general health status and the second highest obesity rate. Lancaster County reported the lowest obesity rate and best health status. Parks have high social value and can increase physical activity levels which promote health and deter obesity. A feature of park usability is distance. This study did not support the hypothesis that the most obese county would have parks furthest from homes. It did support the hypothesis that rural counties would have greater distances between parks and homes and higher obesity rates. Obesity is a multifaceted issue and this study suggests one way to approach it is by examining availability of parks, however many social and economic issues must be considered when researching obesity and parks, as both are deeply integrated into social and economic life.