Public Parks and Shady Areas in Times of Climate Change, Urban Sprawl, and Obesity

Key takeaway:

  • Public parks and shady areas will become increasingly important as climate change, urban sprawl, and obesity continue to pose challenges. Increasing shade structures in public areas could be an effective and large-scale public health intervention.


  • Shade is more effective than sunscreen in reducing ultraviolet radiation (UVR) exposure (i.e., in the form of sunburns).
  • As a large-scale public health intervention, shade has potentially significant reach and sustainability (in that relatively permanent shade structures can be built to protect many people over many years). 
  • Shade structures in public recreation areas are scarce likely because of their cost.
  • Skin cancer prevention efforts (i.e., policy and educational campaigns) have been proven to bee highly cost effective in the past. It would be helpful to conduct cost comparisons for shade structure construction and installation compared with other types of skin cancer prevention, detection, or treatment efforts.
  • When trees and shade structures were introduced in Denver, there was an increase in people’s passive recreational activity, such as leisurely walking around and sitting outside.
  • The usage of passive recreation areas increased more in Denver than in Melbourne – the two cities studied – likely because Melbourne already had more shade options, given the climate’s greater ability to support shady trees, and the city’s long-term community-wide sun safety campaign.
  • Further research on the relationships between sun exposure, skin protection, physical activity, and sedentary behaviors could be helpful in better understanding and increasing the use of shaded recreation areas.



  • Scientific evidence must be communicated effectively to urban planners, government officials, and other stakeholders (i.e., the public) to enable cost-effective and evidence-based decision-making on the incorporation of shade structures/shade trees in urban development.



  • The study (by Buller et al., 2017) involved a randomized controlled trial investigating the effect of shade sails on the usage of passive recreation areas in Denver, Colorado and Melbourne, Australia.


Heckman, C. (2017). Public Parks and Shady Areas in Times of Climate Change, Urban Sprawl, and Obesity. American Journal of Public Health, 107, no. 12.

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