Active Spaces & Latino Kids Research: Introduction and Methodology


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This is part of our Active Spaces & Latino Kids: A Research Review »


Nearly 40 percent of U.S. Latino youths ages 2-19 are overweight or obese compared with 28.5 percent of non-Latino white youths.1 Physical activity is important for good health, physical and cognitive growth and development, and maintaining a healthy weight.2

However, Latino children in underserved communities often have limited opportunities for physical activity.3,4

In a national survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, fewer Latino (70%) than white (82.5%) respondents described their neighborhoods as having safe places for children to play.5 A study conducted in Southern California found that children of racial/ethnic minorities living in poverty have less access to parks and physical activity sites than children living in more advantaged neighborhoods.4

Addressing these disparities by providing sufficient access to parks and recreation facilities may help Latino children become more physically active, maintain a healthy weight, and have better overall health through childhood and into adulthood.6–10

Because low-income neighborhoods generally have few parks and recreation sites, school facilities can provide safe areas for children to play outside of regular school hours. Several objectives, such as those developed by Healthy People 2020 and the American Heart Association are aimed at increasing access to school facilities and other public properties, and research suggests that more progress is needed toward these goals.11–13 Shared use agreements (SUAs) are formal contracts between entities, usually a school and a city, county, sports league, or other activity provider, that outline the terms and conditions for the shared use of public property or facilities.14,15

Improvements to the built environment—man-made features in the community, such as sidewalks, streets, buildings, parks, and playgrounds—that increase active transport in the community (e.g., repairing sidewalks and installing street lights and protected bicycle paths and facilities) may encourage Latino families and children to use schools, parks and other recreation sites for physical activity.16

This research review summarizes the current literature on the implementation of SUAs, improvements to the built environment, and marketing campaigns to increase physical activity among Latino children in underserved communities.


For this research review, electronic searches of PubMed, Google Scholar and government and organization websites were performed to identify literature that was relevant to the implementation of SUAs and improvements to the built environment to increase physical activity among Latino children, defined as individuals younger than 18 years of age.17

Combinations of the following keywords and Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) terms were used: “Latino,” “built environment,” “physical activity spaces,” “physical activity environment,” “playground,” “park,” “parks and recreation,” “walking path,” “bike path,” “bike lane,” “recreational facility,” “street-scale improvement,” “shared use agreement,” “joint use agreement,” “funding,” “maintenance,” “safety,” “security,” “Hispanic Americans”[Mesh], “Mexican Americans”[Mesh], “Child”[Mesh], “Adolescent”[Mesh], “Motor Activity”[Mesh], “Play and Playthings”[Mesh], “Recreation”[Mesh], “Safety”[Mesh], “Schools”[Mesh], “Transportation”[Mesh], “Community-Based Participatory Research”[Mesh], “Community Networks”[Mesh], “Community Health Planning”[Mesh], “Policy”[Mesh], “Public Policy”[Mesh], “Policy Making”[Mesh], “Health Policy”[Mesh], “Social Marketing”[Mesh].

Included in this review were studies, policy statements and legislation published between January 2000 and February 2015 that address childhood obesity, physical activity, schools, parks, recreation facilities, SUAs, and the built environment in underserved and Latino communities.

Exclusion criteria included articles written in non-English language, studies conducted outside the United States, narrative reviews and editorials. Some case studies and organizational reports were included as related examples of published articles. Titles and abstracts were reviewed for relevance and inclusion/exclusion criteria. Full text was obtained for relevant articles meeting the inclusion criteria. Additional literature was found through hand searches of the bibliographies of articles captured through the initial electronic searches. All findings were reported, including those that were contradictory.

The literature identified for this review is comprised primarily of survey-based research (interviews and questionnaires) and reports that were not in the scientific literature. Although some of the surveys had low response rates, available data provide useful considerations and strategies for increasing community access to physical activity facilities.

The literature on SUAs in Latino communities was comprised primarily of case studies that did not formally analyze the effectiveness of SUAs on increasing physical activity levels among Latino children. However, SUAs are highly relevant to Latino communities, and information on the challenges and solutions to creating the SUAs may be helpful for communities that are interesting in establishing a SUA.

More from our Active Spaces & Latino Kids: A Research Review »

References for this section »

(1) Ogden, C. L.; Carroll, M. D.; Kit, B. K.; Flegal, K. M. Prevalence of Childhood and Adult Obesity in the United States, 2011-2012. JAMA 2014, 311 (8), 806–814.

(2) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. School health guidelines to promote healthy eating and physical activity. Available at: (accessed Feb 19, 2015).

(3) Moore, L. V.; Diez Roux, A. V.; Evenson, K. R.; McGinn, A. P.; Brines, S. J. Availability of Recreational Resources in Minority and Low Socioeconomic Status Areas. Am. J. Prev. Med. 2008, 34 (1), 16–22.

(4) Garcia, R.; Strongin, S. Healthy parks, schools and communities: mapping green access and equity for Southern California. Available at: (accessed Dec 27, 2012).

(5) United States Census Bureau. A child’s day: 2009. Available at: (accessed Dec 27, 2012).

(6) Hsieh, S.; Klassen, A. C.; Curriero, F. C.; Caulfield, L. E.; Cheskin, L. J.; Davis, J. N.; Goran, M. I.; Weigensberg, M. J.; Spruijt-Metz, D. Fast-Food Restaurants, Park Access, and Insulin Resistance among Hispanic Youth. Am. J. Prev. Med. 2014, 46 (4), 378–387.

(7) Besenyi, G. M.; Kaczynski, A. T.; Stanis, S. a W.; Bergstrom, R. D.; Lightner, J. S.; Hipp, J. A. Planning for Health: A Community-Based Spatial Analysis of Park Availability and Chronic Disease across the Lifespan. Heal. Place 2014, 27, 102–105.

(8) Ohri-Vachaspati, P.; Lloyd, K.; DeLia, D.; Tulloch, D.; Yedidia, M. J. A Closer Examination of the Relationship between Children’s Weight Status and the Food and Physical Activity Environment. Prev. Med. (Baltim). 2013, 57 (3), 162–167.

(9) Rundle, A.; Quinn, J.; Lovasi, G.; Bader, M. D. M.; Yousefzadeh, P.; Weiss, C.; Neckerman, K. Associations between Body Mass Index and Park Proximity, Size, Cleanliness, and Recreational Facilities. Am. J. Heal. Promot. 2013, 27 (4), 262–269.

(10) Alexander, D. S.; Huber, L. R. B.; Piper, C. R.; Tanner, A. E. The Association between Recreational Parks, Facilities and Childhood Obesity: A Cross-Sectional Study of the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health. J. Epidemiol. Community Health 2013, 67 (5), 427–431.

(11) US Department of Health and Human Services. Healthy People 2020. Available at: (accessed Feb 21, 2015).

(12) Evenson, K. R.; Wen, F.; Lee, S. M.; Heinrich, K. M.; Eyler, A. National Study of Changes in Community Access to School Physical Activity Facilities: The School Health Policies and Programs Study. J Phys Act Heal. 2010, 7 Suppl 1, S20–S30.

(13) Young, D. R.; Spengler, J. O.; Frost, N.; Evenson, K. R.; Vincent, J. M.; Whitsel, L. Promoting Physical Activity through the Shared Use of School Recreational Spaces: A Policy Statement from the American Heart Association. Am. J. Public Health 2014, 104 (9), 1583–1588.

(14) Prevention Institute and Berkeley Media Studies Group. Joint Use (accessed Oct 30, 2012).

(15) National Policy & Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity (NPLAN). KaBOOM! Playing smart: maximizing the potential of school and community property through joint use agreements. Available at: (accessed Dec 30, 2012).

(16) RWJF. Safe Routes to School at Maybury Elementary School in Detroit Routes to School Maybury Elementary Detroit.pdf (accessed Dec 20, 2012).

(17) UNICEF. Convention of the rights to the child. Available at: (accessed Dec 20, 2012).

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