Context: Availability of public neighborhood parks is associated with physical activity. Little is known about how parks contribute to population energy balance.
Purpose: This study estimated energy expenditure associated with the use of neighborhood parks and compared energy expenditure by activity areas within parks and by neighborhood race/ethnicity and income.
Design: The System for Observing Play and Leisure Activity among Youth (SOPLAY), a direct observation approach, was used to estimate energy expenditure in 10 Tampa (Florida) parks and 19 Chicago (Illinois) parks.
Setting: Parks were selected from census tracts with a moderate to high representation of white, Latino, and African American populations.
Participants: A total of 9454 park users were observed.
Outcome: Sedentary, moderate, and vigorous activities were assigned metabolic equivalence intensity (MET) values of 1.5, 3, and 6, respectively.
Results: Park use in Tampa generated 15 336 total METs over the study period. Chicago parks generated 7305.6 METs. Mean METs varied by activity areas in parks. For Chicago parks, mean METs were higher for parks in African American and higher-income neighborhoods.
Conclusions: Public parks can contribute to population energy balance. Policies to make parks available, promotions to encourage park use, and programs to encourage active use of parks are necessary to achieve this potential.