Promoting Healthy Lifestyles

"Community recreation and parks is the health provider that you don't know about," says Andrew Mowen, lead author of the study. "Our study shows that nine out of ten recreation and park professionals are actively involved in a health partnership, sometimes several of them."

Mowen and his research team conducted a nationwide survey of over 1,200 recreation and park administrators, who were members of the National Recreation and Park Association. In-depth interviews were completed with 16 recreation professionals across the United States in order to understand key themes and issues.

The study found that 88 percent said their organisation was involved in a health partnership, with an average of four partnerships per agency. The most common partners were schools, public health agencies and non-profit organisations.

Municipal recreation and parks agencies provide access to low-cost facilities such as ball fields, parks and walking trails for programmes, which are highly visible and well known to local residents. Such agencies already reach out to at-risk groups targeted in health campaigns such as children, older adults, low-income and minority families.

"Health campaigns naturally involve recreation and park departments because they provide low-cost, close-to-home opportunities for physical activity", says Mowen. "Parks, trails and recreation centers can also serve as settings for physical rehabilitation."

Successful partnerships were likely to show high levels of trust among partner agencies, a recognised need for the collaboration, administrative support, and staff empowerment. Common health partnership challenges include a lack of seed funding, communication and turf issues, and garnering full support from community stakeholders such as local government or school board members. Despite these barriers, study results suggest that small, rural recreation and park departments are increasingly interested in being an active health partnership participant.

MEDICA.de; Source: Penn State