Research: Latino Communities Lack Accessible Green Space


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This is part of the Salud America! The State of Latinos and Housing, Transportation, and Green Space: A Research Review »


Latino communities lack green spaces that are safe, accessible, functional, and culturally relevant.

What Are Green Spaces?

Within urban, suburban, and rural communities, green space can be natural or maintained outdoor public space, such as parks, playgrounds, sporting fields, school yards, day care and early care yards, greenways/trails, tree-lined sidewalks, community gardens, nature conservation areas, forests, as well as less conventional urban “green alleyways,” “pocket parks,” and green walls or roofs [52].

Green Space Inequities Exist

Unfortunately, access to and quality of green space is not equitably distributed.

Green Space - Latinos not in walking distanceCompared with nearly half of all Whites, only one third of Latinos live within walking distance (usually defined as less than one mile) of a park, and the quality of that park is dependent upon the neighborhood in which it is located [52]. Lack of park access has been linked to mortality, and green cover has been shown to protect health [55, 56].

Importantly, a large number of studies have demonstrated a link between park proximity and physical activity [57–59]. A Trust for Public Lands report found that low-income neighborhoods populated by minorities and recent immigrants are particularly short of green space [60]. Due to this lack of recreation space, “minorities and low-income individuals are significantly less likely than whites and high-income individuals to engage in regular physical activity that is crucial to good health” [60].

In the United States, only 19% of Latino children have access to recreational spaces close to their neighborhoods, compared to 62% of their white peers [62], making this issue particularly pressing for Latino youth.

Lack of Green Space Contributes to Health Inequities

This lack of activity may play a large role in the high rates of chronic disease we see in American Latinos.

Rapid increases in obesity and diabetes suggest that individual behavior patterns, including low physical activity levels, appear to powerfully influence these chronic disease trends [61].

Roughly 42% of Latino adults and 22% of Latino children are obese, compared to 32% and 14% of their white counterparts; similarly, Latinos are 1.7 times more likely than whites to be diagnosed with diabetes [62]. Overall, it is estimated that Latinos are 30% less likely to engage in physical activity than Whites [63].

Latinos in general are less physically active than non-Latino whites [64], and rural residents are less active than urban and suburban residents [65, 66].

A recent study conducted by Perry et al. used a standardized Rural Active Living Assessment (RALA) to determine the environmental characteristics that impact the activity level of individuals living in four rural, predominantly Latino communities, and found that only half of road segments were rated as walkable; only 44% of segments had walkable shoulders, and only 32% of segments had sidewalks in good condition. Similarly, parks and playgrounds were ranked as “available,” but of these, half were rated in poor condition and thus unusable. Furthermore, all four districts offered afterschool outdoor physical activity programming, but only two districts provided a late bus option, limiting the usefulness of these programs for the majority of Latino residents in these communities [67].

Common Barriers to Green Space in Latino Communities

Green Space - Barriers to Latino Park AccessThis study, and those cited below, highlight that a host of factors are associated with equitable access to green spaces in urban, suburban, and rural communities, including:

  • connectivity of local street networks, [68, 69]
  • the presence and condition of sidewalks, [70, 71]
  • access to public transportation, [72]
  • distance to parks or green spaces, [73, 74]
  • and maintenance of these spaces [67].

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References for this section »

52. Wolch, J. R., Byrne, J., & Newell, J. P. (2014). Urban green space, public health, and environmental justice: The challenge of making cities ‘just green enough’’.’ Landscape and Urban Planning, 125, 234–244. doi:10.1016/j.landurbplan.2014.01.017

55. Coutts, C., Horner, M., & Chapin, T. (2010). Using geographical information system to model the effects of green space accessibility on mortality in Florida. Geocarto International, 25(6), 471–484.

56. Villeneuve, P. J. (2012). A cohort study relating urban green space with mortality in Ontario, Canada. Environ Res, 115, 51–8.

57. Evenson, K. R., Wen, F., Cohen, D. A., & Hillier, A. (2013). Assessing the contribution of parks to physical activity using global positioning system and accelerometry. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 45(10), 1981–1987.

58. Sallis, J. F. (2012). Role of built environments in physical activity, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. Circulation, 125(5), 729–37.

59. Diez Roux, A. V. (2007). Availability of recreational resources and physical activity in adults, 97(3), 493–9.

60. The Trust for Public Land. (2006). The Benefits of Parks. The Trust for Public Land. Retrieved from

61. Hill, J. O., & Peters, J. C. (1998). Environmental contributions to the obesity epidemic. Science, 280(5368), 1371–4.

62. Hispanic Federation. (2015). Healthy Parks: Healthy Latinos. Retrieved from

63. The Office of Minority Health. (2017). Obesity and Hispanic Americans. Retrieved May 1, 2019, from

64. Tucker, J. M., Welk, G. J., & Beyler, N. K. (2011). Physical activity in U.S.: adults compliance with the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 40(4), 454–61.

65. Martin, S. L. (2005). Urban, rural, and regional variations in physical activity. J Rural Health, 21(3), 239–44.

66. Parks, S. E., Housemann, R. A., & Brownson, R. C. (2003). Differential correlates of physical activity in urban and rural adults of various socioeconomic backgrounds in the United States. J Epidemiol Community Health, 57(1), 29–35.

67. Perry, C. K. (2015). Active living environment assessments in four rural Latino communities. Prev Med Rep, 2, 818–23.

68. Hirsch, J. A. (2014). Changes in the built environment and changes in the amount of walking over time: longitudinal results from the multi-ethnic study of atherosclerosis. Am J Epidemiol, 180(8), 799–809.

69. Rothman, L. (2014). Influence of social and built environment features on children walking to school: an observational study. Prev Med, 60, 10–5.

70. Cain, K. L. (2014). Contribution of streetscape audits to explanation of physical activity in four age groups based on the Microscale Audit of Pedestrian Streetscapes (MAPS). Soc Sci Med, 116, 82–92.

71. Kwarteng, J. L. (2014). Associations between observed neighborhood characteristics and physical activity: findings from a multiethnic urban community. J Public Health (Oxf), 36(3), 358–67.

72. Rissel, C. (2012). Physical activity associated with public transport use–a review and modelling of potential benefits. Int J Environ Res Public Health, 9(7), 2454–78.

73. Coombes, E., Jones, A. P., & Hillsdon, M. (2010). The relationship of physical activity and overweight to objectively measured green space accessibility and use. Soc Sci Med, 70(6), 816–22.

74. Sugiyama, T. (2013). Initiating and maintaining recreational walking: a longitudinal study on the influence of neighborhood green space. Prev Med, 57(3), 178–82.

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of Latinos live within walking distance (<1 mile) of a park

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