Play Across Boston: A community initiative to reduce disparities in access to after-school physical activity programs for inner-city youths
In 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funded Play Across Boston to address disparities in access to physical activity facilities and programs for Boston, Mass, inner-city youths.
Local stakeholders worked with the Harvard School of Public Health Prevention Research Center and Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society to improve opportunities for youth physical activity through censuses of facilities and programs and dissemination of results.
Play Across Boston staff conducted a facility census among 230 public recreational complexes and a program census of 86% of 274 physical activity programs for Boston inner-city youths aged 5 to 18 years during nonschool hours for the 1999 to 2000 school year and summer of 2000. Comparison data were collected from three suburban communities: one low income, one medium income, and one high income.
Although Boston has a substantial sports and recreational infrastructure, the ratio of youths to facilities in inner-city Boston was twice the ratio found in the medium- and high-income suburban comparison communities. The low-income suburban comparison community had the highest number of youths per recreational facility with 137 youths per facility, followed by Boston with 117 youths per facility. The ratio of youths to facilities differed among Boston neighborhoods. Boston youths participated less in school-year physical activities than youths in medium- and high-income communities, and less advantaged Boston neighborhoods had lower levels of participation than more advantaged Boston neighborhoods. Girls participated less than boys.
Play Across Boston successfully developed and implemented a rigorous needs assessment with local relevance and important implications for public health research on physical activity and the environment. Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino called the Play Across Boston report a “playbook” for future sports and recreation planning by the city of Boston and its community partners.