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‘Play deserts’ common throughout Deep South, Southwest

Leigh Beeson

Physical activity is crucial to children’s healthy physical and mental development. But new research from the University of Georgia shows hundreds of U.S. counties are play deserts.

These play deserts are areas where parks and other spots to run around and play are nonexistent, hard to access or in less safe locations that make parents second-guess taking their children to play there.

The study found that about 7% of the country would fit into this category.

Many of the counties lacking access to play areas were clustered in the Southeast and Southwest. Additionally, pockets of play deserts were most common in rural and suburban areas throughout the country.

But in the South, even urban areas lacked adequate play space.

“Parents often consider a park the first place to go for their children to get some exercise and to play,” said Jue Yang, lead author of the study and a doctoral geography student in UGA’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

“But even if you have the park near where you live, if the environment is not safe or it’s difficult to access, then people will not use it,” said Lan Mu, corresponding author of the study and a professor of geography in UGA’s Franklin College.

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