New research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison reports that 77 percent of the U.S. population has adequate access to exercise opportunities.

According to the study, the top 10 percent of counties had accessibility levels of 85 percent or greater. Statewide access varied from 46 percent in Mississippi to 91 percent in Maryland, with 100 percent of District of Columbia residents having access. Greater access to exercise opportunities occurred in northeastern and western states compared with southwestern and southeastern states.

Percentages were calculated by County Health Rankings which ranks counties within states on their current (Health Outcomes) and potential (Health Factors) health. In 2014, the County Health Rankings introduced the access-to-exercise-opportunities measure, providing a nationally available county-level measure. The measure incorporates both park and recreational facility data to create a comparable county-to-county measure of access and the first to adjust for the differing needs and transportation patterns between urban and rural areas.

For the 2014 County Health Rankings the access to exercise opportunities measure was calculated for 3,114 of 3,141 counties. The average county population living within a half-mile of a park was 19.5 percent, and the average county population living within a mile of a recreational facility in urban (or 3 miles in rural) areas was 38.9 percent. Researchers also found variation by region. In the southern regions, less than half of county populations had access to exercise opportunities.

The access to exercise opportunities measure serves as the first national measure of the built environment combining park and recreational facility information at the county level. It provides for all 50 states and 3,114 of 3,141 counties an objective assessment of their built environment for exercise.

Article: Development of a Nationally Representative Built Environment Measure of Access to Exercise Opportunities, Keith P. Gennuso, PhD, Preventing Chronic Disease, published 22 January 2015.