Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Advocacy Update: Linking Health to Parks and Recreation: Communities Need to Promote Health and Wellness to Improve Quality of Life

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Advocacy Update: Linking Health to Parks and Recreation: Communities Need to Promote Health and Wellness to Improve Quality of Life

Article excerpt

NRPA has a long history of working on health and wellness promotion in communities across America. Many individuals are beginning to appreciate and understand the role of parks and recreation in promoting healthy lifestyles. Our spaces provide access for individuals of every age, ability and income level to increase their daily amount of physical activity. Park and recreation programs facilitate multiple opportunities for people to learn about proper nutrition, to engage in active recreation and to find balance in their life.

At the same time, public health professionals have been developing innovative surveillance and research methods to determine how to positively impact the health of the greatest number of people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) primary mission is to reduce health risks at all stages of life through the most efficient and effective means. CDC's second health protection goal is to ensure that the places we live, work and play have safe, healthy environments.

NRPA's core mission corresponds and compliments the primary mission of the CDC. Both fields promote health and wellness as a key means of enhancing the quality of life for the greatest number of people.

Cooper Institute Conference: "Parks, Recreation and Public Health: Collaborative Frameworks for Promoting Physical Activity"

Recently, NRPA co-sponsored a scientific conference at the Cooper Institute to discuss practical issues that advance cross-disciplinary opportunities in public health, parks and recreation. Parks and recreation and public health have shared some common goals, but these disciplines have not had adequate opportunity for discourse. These missed opportunities have resulted in an incomplete understanding of the spectrum of shared issues and a distinct disconnect in how we broadly apply our knowledge base.

For years, the CDC has strongly recommended strategies for creating, or improving access to, places for physical activity combined with informational outreach as a way to increase the number of individuals who achieve physical activity goals. Park and recreation resources should help inform these strategies. This is why we are working to reposition our field to become a recognized health asset at every scientific conference and in almost every community in America.

Proving the Health Benefits Garnered from Public Land

An important step in connecting the value of public land acquisition and park development with the justification to receive federal funding is to demonstrate and prove health benefits garnered from public land. Proving that a park has received public funding support is only one tiny piece of the scientific pie.

We must also prove that individuals will be more likely to get their daily dose of physical activity if they have access to a park and that they will, in fact, use a park resource if it is made available to them. We have long passed the fiscal climate where park and recreation professionals can build a park, expand a trail or improve upon a recreational facility and leave it up to the public to use it.

We must figure out a way to track and evaluate how the health of the users of our facilities, spaces and programs improves during time. We need to evaluate participation rates, durations of use or enrollment numbers. The key is to engage with the public health community to learn the most effective surveillance methods.

We have been hearing from federal policymakers for several years now that we need to demonstrate the results of our initiatives. Indeed, when the Land and Water Conservation Fund State Assistance program received a rating of "results not demonstrated" in an analysis, we began to scratch our heads to figure out exactly what results we needed to demonstrate in the first place. …

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