Park-Based Afterschool Program to Improve Cardiovascular Health and Physical Fitness in Children with Disabilities


How to cite this study

Haney, K., Messiah, S.E., Arheart, K.L., Hanson, E., Diego, A., Kardys, J., Kirwin, K., Nottage, R., Ramirez, S., Somarriba, G. and Binhack, L., 2014. Park-based afterschool program to improve cardiovascular health and physical fitness in children with disabilities. Disability and Health Journal 7(3): 335-342.


In Miami-Dade County, Florida, an afterschool, park-based program is effective in improving physical fitness among a sample of 52 children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Afterschool programs may be an effective strategy to increase physical activity among disabled children, who tend to be less physically active than their non-disabled peers.


This study is relevant for those interested in improving childhood obesity and cardiovascular disease risk among children with disabilities. The results from this study can be used to demonstrate to schools, parks and recreation departments, and health care providers the effectiveness of these programs.

This study had a relatively small sample size and was only conducted during one school year. The results are statistically significant, but would be more robust with additional years of data. The range of disabilities present in this sample may not match the range of disabilities in all communities, and it is not clear whether certain aspects of the program are differentially effective with different disabilities. Further research with a different mix of disabilities could shed light on this question.


This study occurs in Miami-Dade County, Florida.

Trail Type

This study occurs at urban parks run by the Miami-Dade County Department of Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces.


Obesity among children with disabilities is 38 percent higher than among children without disabilities. The purpose of this study is to evaluate the effectiveness of a park-based afterschool program in reducing obesity and improving cardiovascular health among children with disabilities. Other research by this group (see Studies 129 and 130) has demonstrated the effectiveness of afterschool programs in reducing childhood obesity, but this study focuses on the needs of children with disabilities.

This research was funded by the Health Foundation of South Florida and the Aetna Foundation.


  • Participants in the normal weight cohort significantly improved their number of pushups and running endurance. The overweight/obese cohort significantly increased the number of sit-ups and pushups.
  • The authors found no change in body mass index (BMI) for participants.
  • Health and wellness knowledge scores are significantly higher after the year-long program.


This study enrolled 52 children with developmental and intellectual disabilities from ages six to 22 years old. These children were all participating in the Fit-2-Play afterschool program, which includes an hour of physical activity daily and a half-hour lesson on nutrition and wellness once a week. Participating families consented to test measurements at the beginning and end of the school year.

The researchers collected data on height, weight, waist, and hip circumference. Physical fitness was assessed using the Presidential Fitness Test protocol.

Data were evaluated as two separate cohorts: normal weight and overweight/obese.

Added to library on January 10, 2018