Participation in Physical Activity and Government Spending on Parks and Recreation

Article excerpt

Physical inactivity is considered a major public health problem. We analyze participation in physical activity using data from a nationally representative sample of individuals in 1998 and 2000 augmented with additional state-level data on government spending on parks and recreation. We find considerable variation in participation and time spent in physical activity across different groups of physical activity. Spending on parks and recreation increases participation in group sports but reduces participation, and time spent, in walking for exercise, suggesting that parks and recreation spending may not be an effective policy tool for increasing physical activity. (JEL1200, 1120, 1180, L830)


Physical inactivity is considered a major public health problem in the United States and is believed to be a key reason for the rise in obesity rates. This trend is of considerable concern because of the adverse health outcomes such as premature death and the costs associated with treating the health problems related to obesity. Public health policy at the federal and state levels in recent years has been directed toward promoting physical activity in an effort to combat the problems of physical inactivity and obesity. However, despite these interventions, the prevalence of meeting physical activity guidelines is low in the United States (Hill, Sallis, and Peters 2004). One possible explanation for this failure is a limited understanding of the effects of economic, social, and environmental factors on an individual's decision to be physically active. The interventions and policies may have been relatively ineffective because they did not adequately consider the possibility that some interventions will work better than others depending on the underlying characteristics and preferences of the target population. There has been only limited empirical analysis of the economic, demographic, and environmental determinants of participation in physical activity, including sport. There are few notable exceptions to this that include recent research by Cawley, Meyerhofer, and Ncwhouse (2005) on physical education in the United States, participation in physical activity from a leisure demand perspective (Davies, 2002), and a statistical analysis by Farrell and Shields (2002) on the economic and demographic determinants of sporting participation in England.

This paper adds to the current literature by empirically quantifying the influence of economic, demographic, and environmental factors on the decision to participate and the time spent participating in various physical activities and sports. We estimate an economic model of participation in physical activity developed by Humphreys and Ruseski (2006) using data from the 1998 and 2000 waves of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey, a large nationally representative data set containing a wealth of information about individual's participation and time spent in physical activity and sport. Our results begin to uncover the relative effects of characteristics such as age, income, education, ethnicity, and employment status on participation and duration decisions about physical activity.

We also investigate the impact of government spending on parks and recreation on individual's decisions to participate in different physical activities and sports. State and local government spending on parks and recreation is one possible policy variable that decision makers could use to increase physical activity in many populations. A recent survey on environmental influences on physical activity (French, Story, and Jeffery, 2001) pointed out that the availability of parks and recreation space and facilities is believed to have an important impact on physical activity. If this is the case, then spending on parks and recreation should reflect availability of parks and recreation space and facilities, and increasing spending in this area is one possible policy to influence participation in physical activity. …


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