Playground Design and Physical Activity

Published:December 14, 2022DOI:


      This study compares traditional post-and-platform playgrounds with innovatively designed playgrounds to assess the degree to which design influences use and physical activity. Innovative playgrounds are defined as having (1) a variety of surface types; (2) naturalized and planted areas designed for play; (3) open-ended structures that do not dictate play sequences; (4) loose, movable equipment; and (5) not comprised solely of traditional post-and-platform structures. This study also examines how neighborhood contextual factors contribute to playground use and physical activity.


      The authors selected 30 traditional and 30 innovative playgrounds in 10 U.S. cities and used the System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities to document the number and characteristics of users during 19 hourly observations over 1 week at each playground in the summer of 2021. Data were analyzed to identify the factors associated with the number of users and the amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity within each playground.


      Innovative playgrounds attracted 2.5 times more users and generated almost 3 times as much moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. After controlling for playground size, population density, neighborhood poverty, and destination location, innovative playgrounds still attracted 43% more visitors than traditional playgrounds. Whereas playgrounds in high-poverty neighborhoods saw less overall use, innovatively designed playgrounds mitigated the difference by 60% compared with traditional playgrounds.


      Playground characteristics that attract more users and are associated with more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, such as design, size, and the number of unique features, should be integrated into future playground designs and renovations, with innovative designs prioritized for low-income neighborhoods.
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