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BYU study: Government program a start in getting kids outdoors

By Ashtyn Asay - | Apr 8, 2022

Nate Edwards, BYU Photo

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park.

Every year for spring break, visitors flock to national parks nationwide to enjoy fresh air and spend quality time with their loved ones — many of them families hiking for free thanks to the Every Kid Outdoors program.

The program allows families with fourth-grade students to have free admission to national parks and other U.S. agencies for one year. Two researchers from Brigham Young University found in a recent study that the program, while having a positive impact, may not be having the intended effect on all American families.

For the basis of their findings, study co-authors Camilla Hodge, an assistant professor at the Marriott School of Business, and Jocelyn Wikle, an assistant professor of Family Life, used the American Time Use Survey. They analyzed the responses of 5,119 families, comparing data from 2013 through August 2015, just before the Every Kid Outdoors program began, and data from September 2015 to 2016, the first year of the program.

Hodge and Wikle hypothesized two possible results from the Every Kid Outdoor program.

The first was that families would be responsive to the waving of the access fee, so we hypothesized that we would see an increase in hiking behaviors,” Hodge said. “Due to previous research, we expected there to be a concentrated response among lower-income households, meaning that we’d see an additional bump in hiking behaviors in lower-income households.”

The researchers found that the program leads to a significant increase in the frequency of hiking among families. Specifically, those with fourth-grade children hiked seven times more on any given day after the program’s implementation. However, this increase was found primarily among high-income families and white families.

Data from Hispanic and African American families showed a slight increase in hiking frequency. However, this increase was not deemed significant enough. Families in the lower half of America’s income distribution also did not show any increase in hiking frequency.

While it’s clear that the Every Kid Outdoors program has gotten more families hiking, Hodge and Wikle’s findings indicate that there is still more work to be done in terms of making national parks accessible to all.

“Although the increase in hiking with children is potentially a positive development for strengthening family relationships and creating more active lifestyles, the data show there are still hurdles to cross,” reads a press release distributed by BYU. “Given that the original goals of the program aimed to help equalize access to public lands across households of all incomes and ethnic and racial groups, the research raises awareness that the policy may need some additional adjustments.”

Studies have shown that outdoor family time can improve family connections, reduce screen time and improve children’s mental health, so what’s the solution to getting more families into national parks? According to Hodge, the answer doesn’t just lie in changing the Every Kid Outdoors program, but rather in making systemic change.

“A lot of the factors that are going to create challenges that prevent people from engaging in outdoor recreation are things that really can’t be addressed by this policy itself,” Hodge said. “It’s all about fair pay and making sure that people have livable wages and better infrastructure for transportation to and from federal lands,”

According to Hodge, she and Wikle believe that the Every Kid Outdoors program is a good one, but that it needs additional support in order to get more families to spend time on public land.

“You know it really can be every kid in a park, or every kid outdoors,” Hodge said.


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