Guiding efforts to improve physical activity resources along the Texas-Mexico border

Researchers develop new assessment tool involving community to better evaluate and prioritize physical activity resources in areas where diabetes and obesity are rampant
October 27, 2020

Including community input when evaluating resources for physical activity gives a clearer understanding of how those resources might affect physical activity levels, researchers from Texas A&M University and Baylor University find.

Luis Gómez and Joseph Sharkey, PhD, of the Texas A&M University School of Public Health, along with lead author and physical activity director of the study M. Renee Umstattd Meyer, PhD, Kelly Ylitalo, PhD, and Tyler Prochnow from Baylor University, studied physical activity resources in low-income and underserved rural communities in Hidalgo County, Texas. Their study, funded by the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture and published in the journal Health and Place, relied on a modified version of a well-regarded tool for assessing physical activity resources that was used by specially trained trusted members of the community, known as promotoras. The research team combined scores from this assessment tool, known as the Physical Activity Resource Assessment (PARA), with input from community leaders to produce a new tool called the Physical Activity Methodology for Assessment and Prioritization (PASMAP). By comparing PARA scores and community input, PASMAP can provide additional context into the features, amenities and incivilities of parks and other resources.

The research team evaluated the features, amenities and incivilities of 57 physical activity resources in the study area. Features of these resources included things like sidewalks, trails, fenced-in fields, play equipment and basketball courts. Amenities included lighting, benches, picnic tables, water fountains and trash cans. Lastly, the evaluation counted litter, evidence of alcohol, tobacco or drug use, vandalism, loose dogs and erosion as incivilities. The evaluation rated the perceived safety and walkability of each resource in addition to whether it had enough activities for families with young children.

Promotoras noted that around 90 percent of the resources were safe and walkable, but slightly more than half had enough equipment or activities for young children. Sidewalks had the highest PARA feature score, but PASMAP noted a discrepancy for trails and fenced-in areas, with these resources being rated highly by community members but frequently missing or in poor condition. This PASMAP finding indicates that efforts to improve physical activity resources should focus on those features. There were also notable differences between evaluation scores and community values for drinking fountains, which were highly valued but missing or in poor condition, and for litter, which was important but not noticeable.

Including community member input seems to add context to the detailed assessments that tools like PARA can provide. This added information could help communities avoid spending time and resources on lower value features and amenities. For example, low PARA scores for decorative water fountains and pools might indicate that those are areas for improvement. However, community input could show that those are of low importance and that fenced-in fields and drinking fountains should be higher priority.

Although this study’s findings show the value of tools like PASMAP in underserved rural areas, the researchers noted a few limitations. First, the study covered only one county and the PASMAP tool was tailored to meet the language and culture of the region. Thus, the results cannot truly be applied to other populations. Additionally, the evaluation may have missed factors that promote or hinder physical activity.

Despite these limitations, the findings of this study show that tools like PASMAP could be helpful in both understanding the quantity and quality of physical activity resources and guiding efforts to improve physical activity resources. Including community input when evaluating resources gives a clearer understanding of how those resources might affect physical activity levels and could make future allocations of resources more effective.

— Rae Lynn Mitchell

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