Journal of Urban Health

, Volume 93, Issue 2, pp 235–243 | Cite as

Are Food Deserts Also Play Deserts?

  • Deborah A. CohenEmail author
  • Gerald Hunter
  • Stephanie Williamson
  • Tamara Dubowitz


Although food deserts are areas that lack easy access to food outlets and considered a barrier to a healthy diet and a healthy weight among residents, food deserts typically comprise older urban areas which may have many parks and street configurations that could facilitate more physical activity. However, other conditions may limit the use of available facilities in these areas. This paper assesses the use of parks in two Pittsburgh food desert neighborhoods by using systematic observation. We found that while the local parks were accessible, they were largely underutilized. We surveyed local residents and found that only a minority considered the parks unsafe for use during the day, but a substantial proportion suffered from health limitations that interfered with physical activity. Residents also felt that parks lacked programming and other amenities that could potentially draw more park users. Parks programming and equipment in food desert areas should be addressed to account for local preferences and adjusted to meet the needs and limitations of local residents, especially seniors.


Parks Physical activity Food deserts Health disparities 



Research Support

This paper was supported in part by NHLBI # R01HL114432 and NCI # R01CA164137.


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Copyright information

© RAND Corporation 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Deborah A. Cohen
    • 1
    Email author
  • Gerald Hunter
    • 1
    • 2
  • Stephanie Williamson
    • 1
  • Tamara Dubowitz
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.RAND CorporationSanta MonicaUSA
  2. 2.RAND CorporationPittsburghUSA

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