Magazine article Parks & Recreation

NRPA, Partners Deliver Quality Event Focused on Public Parks and Health

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

NRPA, Partners Deliver Quality Event Focused on Public Parks and Health

Article excerpt

It takes a healthy dialogue to move an agenda on healthy lifestyles.

This was the energy behind NRPA's inaugural National ] Health and Livability Summit in Atlanta, April 17-19. In collaboration with high-impact organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), the three-day event examined the vital contributions that park and recreation agencies make to increase the quality of life, health and livability of the individuals and communities they serve.

Made possible by a generous grant from the National Recreation Foundation, the event attracted nearly 400 participants from the sectors of public parks and recreation, public health, citizen advocacy, municipal leadership, and elsewhere.

The collaboration between the sectors of public health and public parks and recreation seems all the more natural when one considers the realities of growing overweight and obesity trends among Americans today:

* Half of all U.S. adults fail to get adequate levels of physical activity, and 25 percent of them are not physically active at all.

* The rate of overweight children ages 6 to 19 has tripled during the past 40 years.

* One-third of children born in 2000 are expected to become diabetic.

NRPA Executive Director John Thorner commented that the "convergence of fields so diverse yet that share such a common goal" was inspiring. "This is just the beginning," he said. "The best practices being shared, the ideas on smarter community design, the well-attended education sessions. I truly see a number of tremendous relationships and ideas being hatched from this summit."

Topics as diverse as designing communities to promote active lifestyles, implementing healthy vending and concessions operations at park and recreation agencies and attracting outside funding filled the robust education calendar. An emphasis was placed on highlighting those communities around the country that serve as case studies in bringing active living to their residents.

Among the communities recognized was San Diego County, Calif., where recreation program manager Christine Lafontant has played a large role in developing food and beverage contract strategies and concession management practices that support healthy eating while still allowing agencies to meet revenue goals.

Lafontant's county parks and recreation department developed a policy in March 2006 to set nutritional standards for items provided in their vending machines. The standards, she said, came from working cooperatively with dietitians, public health officials and others.

Today, in county facilities that cater to children, 100 percent of the vending choices must meet the nutritional requirements set forth in the concession policy. Of the collaborative process, Lafontant said, "We're all in the same boat; we're all trying to combat childhood obesity. We definitely need to work together."

In his keynote address, Dr. Howard Frumkin, director of the CDC's National Center for Environmental Health, directed his comments to the importance of green space and active recreation as components of healthy, wholesome, sustainable communities.

"We are a sedentary society," Frumkin told the audience, adding that we have engineered simple activity, such as walking, out of our daily lives. "How can we design places to meet the health challenges we face today?" he asked.

In advocating transportation alternatives, accessible parks and green spaces and mixed-use development as design principles for success, Frumkin reminded participants that physical activity isn't the only benefit of smarter development. Communities also see reduced waste, less air pollution and fewer unhappy residents.

Residents who live in sprawling subdivisions without adequate opportunities for physical activity "will never walk or bicycle because of where they live," Frumkin said. …

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