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Arnold School of Public Health

HPEB’s Andrew Kaczynski awarded NIH grant to advance mobile app for collecting data to improve parks

June 13, 2018 | Erin Bluvas,

The National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute has awarded health promotion, education, and behavior (HPEB) associate professor Andrew Kaczynski a grant to advance the development of a technology system for collecting park data and engaging stakeholders in improving parks to promote health and other benefits. The one-year, $225K Small Business Innovation Research Small Business Technology Transfer grant will be used to further develop and test the electronic Community Park Audit Tool (eCPAT) mobile technology and infrastructure for broader use by diverse populations.

Increasing rates of obesity and physical inactivity pose threats to healthcare and other social and economic concerns. Quality parks provide numerous benefits to individuals and communities, including health cost-savings through exercise and stress relief and their subsequent prevention of chronic conditions (e.g., depression, diabetes, cancer), increased tax revenue via augmented property values and attracting businesses, and positive social and environmental impacts through outcomes such as civic pride and pollution control.

“Parks are key settings for promoting physical activity and health, but they can vary dramatically with respect to their available features, quality, and surrounding neighborhood,” Kaczynski explains. “Most research shows that the features of parks—playgrounds, restrooms, cleanliness, and so on—are paramount for promoting their use.”

In an effort to assess the potential of parks to promote physical activity, Kaczynski’s Built Environment and Community Health (BEACH) Laboratory previously worked with community stakeholders in Kansas City via a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to develop the Community Park Audit Tool (CPAT). This observation instrument collects data on park information, access and surrounding neighborhood, park activity areas, and park quality in order to capture the physical environment of the park that may influence usage and physical activity.

Gina Besenyi, a former HPEB Ph.D. student and BEACH Lab graduate research assistant, led the advancement of the CPAT from paper-and-pencil tool to a mobile web application, eCPAT, through her dissertation project. This work involved developing the app technology and testing it with youth across 47 parks in Greenville, South Carolina with funding support from the National Recreation and Park Association, the USC Office of the Vice President for Research, and the South Carolina Clinical and Translational Research Institute.

“The CPAT provides a comprehensive yet user-friendly means of engaging diverse stakeholders in the process of evaluating and improving local parks so that they can use this data to plan improvements or advocate for resources,” says Kaczynski. “The electronic version, eCPAT, has been very well-received during our extensive beta testing efforts, but we have also identified important improvements to the app and associated infrastructure that are needed to satisfy the demands of a multitude of interested user groups and to support commercialization.”

With this grant, the BEACH Lab will work with Benjamin Schooley, an integrated information technology faculty member, to bolster the eCPAT technology by integrating additional innovative features (e.g., camera, GIS, social media connectivity) and develop a robust access and database infrastructure. Through the support of USC’s Prevention Research Center and co-investigator Sara Wilcox, they will test the improved app with key groups of potential users (e.g., parks and recreation agencies, researchers, residents, healthcare professionals, real estate agents), ultimately creating a system of evidence-based tools that engage diverse stakeholders in evaluating, improving, and accessing park information to increase awareness and promote park-based physical activity and community health.

Advancement of eCPAT represents an innovative opportunity to capitalize on the benefits of electronic data collection and to facilitate the integration of these data with other emerging technologies to support individual, organizational, and community decision-making,” Kaczynski says. “The eCPAT app and system can be used by parks and recreation agencies in communities across the U.S. to standardize park data collection and management; by researchers conducting studies about the built environment, parks, and related outcomes such as physical activity and obesity; by citizens conducting grassroots advocacy and desiring to communicate park information to officials and fellow residents; by healthcare professionals participating in rapidly-growing park prescriptions initiatives that recommend parks as destinations for health promotion; and by real estate agents and investors working to showcase the park resources in a neighborhood. These and other user groups illustrate eCPAT’s significant commercial potential and capacity for improving the value of public parks to community engagement, economic prosperity, and health.”


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