The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) awarded a $341,000 grant to Austin Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) to study the physical and emotional health effects of worsening extreme heat due to climate change. PARD’s Cities Connecting Children to Nature program will examine whether worsening heat decreases opportunities for physical activity and reduces the overall emotional well-being of young people.
The project will evaluate the impact of green infrastructure on heat index, physical activity of children, and outcomes from park use. For the purposes of this study, green infrastructure will primarily include trees, but will also encompass nature trails and gardens. PARD has identified three elementary school parks, Barrington, Cook and Odom, which are majority Latino and economically disadvantaged, to conduct this research. Latino children from low income families have been found to live in areas characterized by urban heat islands and exhibit lower physical activity levels and higher risk of heat illness than other groups. The research will assess the heat index in relation to physical activity of the students. The variables will include time exposed to shade from tree canopies and whether long periods of exposure increase children’s physical activity. The goal of the research is to determine whether there is a correlation between the presence of green infrastructure and physically and emotionally stronger children.
“This study will help the Austin Parks and Recreation Department learn about the effects of a warming climate on the physical and mental health of our youngest Austinites,” said Kimberly McNeeley, Director of PARD. “The results will help us understand how equitable access to nature can keep kids happy, healthy, and playing outside.”
The two-year project is a collaboration between PARD, The Michael and Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living, the Children and Nature Network, and Austin Independent School District. PARD expects to publish the results in the spring of 2021.
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