New Play Streets Guide: How to Create Active Spaces for Rural Children

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Every kid needs physical activity and active spaces for healthy growth.

But physical inactivity has increased 10% in rural and low-income communities, according to a new study. Rural children have higher risks for obesity than kids living in cities—and rural children of color are at the most risk.

Inactivity rates have increased over time for lower incomes households.
Inactivity rates have increased over time for lower incomes households.

This is where Play Streets comes in.

Play Streets are place-based interventions that temporarily close a public area to create safe places for physical activity. This engages kids and families, gets people active, and promotes community connections.

Now researchers from Baylor University and Johns Hopkins University has released their Guide to Implementing Play Streets in Rural Communities. Using first-hand experience, the guide teaches local groups, schools, churches, and others how to put on a Play Street in a rural community.

“We created this guide to help rural and small community groups plan and implement Play Streets. We hope that it will help those groups through every step of the process,” say guide authors Keshia M. Pollack Porter of Johns Hopkins and M. Renée Umstattd Meyer of Baylor.

The Issue of Rural Obesity and Active Spaces

For the past 30 years, body mass indexes (BMIs) have risen across the globe.

Rural BMIs have increased faster than urban ones. The global average BMI in rural communities is 30-50% higher than in urban ones, NPR reports.

Urban and rural divide on physical activity

In addition, obesity rates have hit historic highs in the U.S., with Latino children having the highest combined obesity rate among all racial/ethnic groups.

For kids, regular physical activity promotes bone and muscle growth, improves academic performance, and decreases risks for health issues like diabetes.

However, Latino and rural communities face unique challenges, like a lack of safe spaces to play in.

“Hosting Play Streets can be a cost-effective way to help kids be active, especially during the summer months when they’re not in school and don’t have regular recess,” the authors told The State of Obesity. “That’s particularly true in rural communities that lack resources and where residents lack access to transportation, parks, playgrounds, and other safe places to engage in physical activity.”

Exploring the Guide: How to Create a Rural Play Street

Baylor’s new guide starts with an introduction and overview of rural obesity and the history of Play Streets.

Next, the planing process is broken down into three stages.

These sections cover the selection and creation of a Play Street, the process of maintaining one, and how to assess its success. They also provide resources for both leaders and rural residents and templates for flyers and forms.

rural play streets“First, while it might seem like Play Streets are a big undertaking, they’re very doable, even for organizations with limited resources,” the authors told The State of Obesity.

Here are the planning stages to help you create a sustainable Play Street program in your rural community.

  1. Before the Play Street: This section begins with how to choose a location and time for the Play Street. It then talks about staffing and general risk management. This stage also includes how to get the word out, planning specific activities, and creating a map.
  2. During/Day of the Play Street: This stage mainly covers the set up and clean up of the Play Street. It also provides guidelines for assessing the success of the event. You can collect attendance using a sign-up sheet. Or you could see which activities were the most popular.
  3. After the Play Street: Lastly, after the Play Street, you should debrief with your staff and volunteers to get their thoughts and feelings. Afterward, you can collect feedback from the community as a whole and decide how you can improve future Play Streets.

Other Physical Activity Resources

Other cities do similar things to Play Streets.

In Wilmington, Del. (12% Latino), leaders have hosted summer block parties to promote family time, play, and neighborhood health in areas with high rates of obesity, diabetes, and cancer.

In San Antonio, Texas (69% Latino), leaders host Síclovía, shutting down a major road for several hours to provide a safe, open space for families to “play in the street.” The event is said to change people’s physical activity behaviors.

“Play Streets can be a great strategy—not just for providing opportunities for kids to play and be active, but for fostering community relationships and connections, which can be challenging in rural areas,” the authors told The State of Obesity. “Even just the planning process for Play Streets can spark new partnerships by providing community members with the chance to work together.”

“Play Streets aren’t just for kids—they’re for entire families.”

Just be careful what you say!

Using the word “exercise” can be a mental barrier to healthy physical activity. It’s important to make a distinction between the two. Consistent walking is more sustainable and reasonable than trying to run every day.

Learn more ways to create healthy communities!

By The Numbers By The Numbers

84

percent

of Latino parents support public funding for afterschool programs.

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