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Proximity to Parks Plays a Part in Physical Fitness


Researcher will discuss how environment, city planning can help fight childhood and adult obesity

Could city planners adopt a ‘road diet’ to help citizens get in shape? This narrowing of vehicle roadways to increase space for biking and walking is just one of the ways that the built environment – all the buildings, spaces and products created or modified by people – can influence physical health and activity in communities, said Andrew Kaczynski, PhD, co-director of the physical activity and public health laboratory at Kansas State University.

Kaczynski, also an assistant professor in kinesiology and master of public health program, will discuss social ecological approaches to health promotion and the role of the built environment in physical activity and health during an 8:30 a.m. presentation on March 10 at the MU School of Medicine’s Curtis W. and Ann H. Long Department of Family and Community Medicine, Room MA302. His lecture “A Walk in the Park: Exploring Neighborhood and Park Influences on Physical Activity and Health” is a part of the department’s Colwill lecture series.

The built environment is an evolving concept in the past decade, as some communities have begun to shift momentum from urban sprawl to incorporate a variety of different types of land uses – schools, stores, parks and workplaces – all within walking distance of one another. Kaczynski’s research interest has likewise transitioned, from a starting point of looking at individuals’ health to examining the health of communities and how parks promote population-level physical activity and health.

“People have traditionally looked at physical activity as an individual choice,” Kaczynski said. “We’re now starting to recognize it’s also the contexts in which people live that affect their health behaviors.”

Kaczynski will highlight findings from past and current studies in Waterloo, Ontario, and Kansas City, Mo. These studies examined environmental influences on active living, including how park proximity and park features are associated with neighborhood and park-based physical activity among children and adults. A study of Kaczynski’s published in the Journal of Community Health found that children living within .6 miles of a park or playground were five times more likely to be a healthy weight, rather than overweight, compared to children who didn’t have a park with a playground nearby.

Dr. Kaczynski is originally from Canada and holds degrees from the University of Waterloo in Ontario and from Texas A&M University. He has published more than 30 journal articles and book chapters on topics related to environmental influences on physical activity and parks and recreation management. He has been the lead investigator on projects supported by the National Cancer Institute of Canada, the National Recreation and Park Association, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
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