Intentionally Advancing Health Equity

Parks and recreation is a key part of the public health system. Agencies uniquely serve as Community Wellness Hubs, trusted gathering places that connect every member of the community to essential programs, services and spaces that advance health equity, improve health outcomes, and enhance quality of life.

When health inequities are eliminated, the health of individuals and their communities — especially those living in Black, Latino, Indigenous and Asian American communities — improves. Many park and recreation agencies have made progress toward this goal, but there is still much work to be done to eliminate and prevent health inequities. That’s the exciting opportunity and challenge ahead.

Elevating Health Equity Through Parks and Recreation: A Framework for Action is designed to help park and recreation professionals intentionally advance health equity by applying a racial equity lens when designing, implementing and evaluating programs and services, and when developing an infrastructure, a maintenance and an operations plan.

Rooting this framework in guiding principles provide a foundation on which park and recreation professionals can create more equitable spaces, programs and services to advance community health and well-being. The guiding principles are:

  • Center Health Equity — When health equity is centered in strategies, initiatives and policies, the full power of parks and recreation will be realized.
  • Parks and Recreation are a Pathway to Advance Health Equity — When park and recreation professionals leverage their skills, assets and expertise to create just and equitable access to programs, services and activities, they can promote better health outcomes.
  • Reimagine Inclusion — In park settings, the concept of inclusion must go beyond ability and access and should include a focus on who, how and where people are included.
  • Focus on Learning — Committing to this work requires a constant examination of self and systems, connection with individuals who are not like you, and a willingness to share failures and successes.
  • Respect the Environment — Park and recreation professionals and the open green spaces they manage can be catalysts for creating, maintaining and activating spaces that are not only resilient and regenerative, but also celebrations of diversity.

NRPA’s Working Definition of Health Equity

Health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. This requires removing obstacles to health such as poverty and discrimination and addressing lack of access to healthy food and safe environments, including parks and recreation, healthcare, good jobs with fair pay and quality education and housing.

To put these principles into action, the framework is divided into four parts with corresponding learning objectives, worksheets and action items:

        1. Self-Assessment — Questions to Challenge Individual Thinking
        2. Agency Assessment — Assessing Agency Culture
        3. Health Equity Integration — Steps to Center Equity and Change Systems
        4. Committing to the Call — Action Planning to Advance Health Equity

Question prompts are included in each part of the framework to spark conversations that engage individuals and organizations in deep reflection and a process of ongoing learning. The framework also provides a glossary of terms, as well as call-out boxes to define important terms and concepts.

When we achieve equity, everyone benefits. Achieving equity requires action. While there is still so much to learn, NRPA recognizes that even the smallest step in the fight toward equity and justice is never wasted. We hope that within this document you will find applicable tools, resources and stories to help you promote health and elevate equity in all of its forms.

Access the Framework


Watch the video below created in partnership with Epic Health Solutions to learn more about the Elevating Health Equity Through Parks and Recreation: A Framework for Action.

For more details about how to implement the steps in the framework, view the following videos created in partnership with Epic Health Solutions:

Health Equity Workshop 

In January 2022, NRPA hosted its first-ever Elevating Health Equity in Parks and Recreation Workshop. Six agencies participated in the Workshop, which focused on key topics fostering an anti-racist culture, evaluating programs and policies, meaningful community engagement, root causes of inequity, historical context and implications of systemic racism and more. Explore a summary of the workshop, additional resources to advance health equity approaches in parks and recreation and case studies highlighting the progress each of the six agencies has made. 

Access the Workshop Summary and Case Study Resource

Additional Learning Opportunities

NRPA will be developing professional learning opportunities to help you as you continue on this journey and find meaningful ways to elevate health equity in your agency.

News Stories