Healthy Parks, Healthy People!

NWF   |   April 6, 2011


Today I’m attending the Healthy Parks, Healthy People conference at the Institute for the Golden Gate outside of San Francisco.  It is a gathering of a surprisingly diverse mix of 100 public health, park and recreation, community outreach and education organizations.  The Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Health and Human Services, National Recreation and Parks Association, leading medical schools, the YMCA of the USA, the NAACP (and NWF) are here with others to offer the National Park Service (NPS) their best advice. 

Attendees got to hear from NPS Director Jon Jarvis about the priority the Service intends to place on addressing childhood obesity and other adverse health conditions such as early onset of diabetes.

The basic idea is to make units of the NPS and their state and local outreach programs more effective at improving public health across America.

The conference is about how to achieve this in practical ways.  We heard from Robin Schepper from the Office of the First Lady, Michelle Obama, who discussed the White House’s Let’s Move Outside campaign.  She summed up its importance with the simple statement that “we have no choice but to take this critical public issue head on.”

Several panels and discussions covered specific ways to link parks with the health care delivery system, including enabling doctors to prescribe park visits as a way to treat health conditions.  An insurance company is designing a plan to provide lower rates for subscribers who make regular and frequent use of parks and trails.

There is a growing body of hard evidence that health interventions that enable people to drop weight and improve their cardio-vascular health will prolong life and reduce health care costs by millions of dollars every year.  One study of a program by the YMCA of the USA showed that people who lost 5 to 7 percent of their body weight had improved health that persisted for more than a decade.

For the Healthy Parks, Healthy People conference of 2011, the bottom line is NPS and other outdoor recreation providers are quickly becoming more integrated with preventative health care and a series of visits to parks could soon become a legitimate and respected Rx for lowering health care costs and raising happier, healthier children.