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Web Exclusive - May 2012

Research Covers Trends in Shared Use

"Providing access to safe, affordable and convenient recreational facilities is a critical strategy for helping children and adults be more active, especially in lower-income communities and communities of color that often lack such facilities," states a new research brief from Active Living Research.

The brief summarizes research on community access to school sport and recreation facilities outside of school hours, along with studies examining shared use of these facilities with other groups and agencies. The report also summarizes the challenges that often arise and prevent such shared use, as well as opportunities for policy-makers to take action at the state and local level.

The benefits of such shared use have been emphasized by many leading public health authorities, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the American Academy of Pediatrics. These agencies and other leaders in recreation recommend shared use of school and community recreational facilities to promote physical activity. The Healthy People 2020 initiative recommends that school recreational facilities be opened to the community before, during and after school hours, for example. Children who with access to these facilities outside of school hours are more active, according to several studies. In addition, shared use can help community members. For example, a shared use program in Honolulu between the park department and a local high school provides senior fitness classes, adult fitness programs, teen strength training and more, with more than 1,000 community members participating. The participants overwhelmingly feel that they are able to exercise more safely and more often.

Unfortunately, many school facilities are not open to the community for recreational use, and progress has been slow, the report states. In addition, lower-income communities are less likely than higher-income communities to offer shared use.

"Surveys of school administrators in lower-income communities or communities of color cite issues such as liability, staffing, maintenance and cost as barriers to opening schools for recreational use outside of school hours," the report states.

The report goes on to discuss how to deal with each of these issues, offering pointers to guidelines that will help administrators work through the challenges in order to provide recreational space through joint use agreements.

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