Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Keeping Up with Public Health: NRPA's Director of Health Initiatives Shares the Association's Perspective on the Role That Park and Recreation Departments Play in Community Health and the Bright Outlook for the Future

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Keeping Up with Public Health: NRPA's Director of Health Initiatives Shares the Association's Perspective on the Role That Park and Recreation Departments Play in Community Health and the Bright Outlook for the Future

Article excerpt

Five years ago, NRPA was awarded a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that helped elevate the role of parks and recreation in the public health world. The grant promoted the development of community-based coalitions--park and recreation agencies working in partnership with schools, businesses, local health departments, hospitals, mayors and other community leaders to develop strategies that build healthy environments and create healthier places to live, work, learn and play. With the alarming health trends in obesity, it had become clear then that park and recreation agencies needed to join the public health fight to combat chronic disease.

Today, several national initiatives and priorities include parks and recreation as an essential strategy for reducing chronic diseases and related risk factors. The National Physical Activity Plan that aims to increase physical activity in all segments of the American population includes a dedicated sector for parks, recreation, sports and fitness. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Guide to Community Preventive Services calls for enhanced access to places for physical activity. The former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin issued a call to action on walking, targeting groups such as park and recreation agencies to build policies and strategies that will make communities more walkable. The American Public Health Association recently adopted a policy statement that calls on public health and medical professionals to raise awareness about the health benefits of spending time in nature and of nature-based play and recreation. Even more recently, First Lady Michelle Obama applauded NRPA's efforts to bring healthy eating and physical activity standards to community park and recreation programs throughout the country (see "Setting the Standard," page 42).

We have come a long way in just five years, but like many fields, public health is constantly changing in response to new challenges and issues facing our nation. Two important topics in today's public health conversations are shaping how we move our health and wellness agenda forward at NRPA:

Eliminating Health Disparities

Considerable gaps remain between the healthiest people and the least healthy. We know that disparities exist in distribution of and access to public park and recreation facilities, and these inequities are negatively impacting the health of many Americans. …

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