The nation’s public parks and recreation are leaders in improving the overall health and wellness of the nation. They are essential partners in combating some of the most complicated challenges our country faces – poor nutrition, hunger, obesity, and physical inactivity. Park and recreation agencies effectively improve health outcomes and thus should be supported through national and community level funding and policies that enable them to continue to expand their efforts in making a positive change in the health and wellness of our nation.

Public park and recreation agencies create healthy communities and play a fundamental role in enhancing the physical environments in which we live. Through facilities, outdoor settings, and services provided, they support good health for people of all abilities, ages, socio‐economic backgrounds, and ethnicities. They foster change through collaborative programs and policies that reach a vast population to:

  • Help reduce obesity and incidence of chronic disease by providing opportunities to increase rigorous physical activity in a variety of forms;
  • Provide a connection to nature which studies demonstrate relieves stress levels, tightens interpersonal relationships, and improves mental health;
  • Aid in reducing hunger in America and increasing access to nutritious food options; and
  • Foster overall wellness and healthful habits, such as becoming tobacco‐free and engaging in enrichment opportunities that add balance to life.

NRPA advocates for the health and wellness capacity‐building of park professionals. We support increased public access to physical activity opportunities and improved nutrition through park and recreation agencies. We also advocate for increased funding for health research on best practices to create healthy communities through park and recreation agencies.

Public parks and recreation are the gateways to a healthier America, and they ensure that communities are truly livable.

Supporting Points

The following points support the critical role of public parks and recreation in improving health and wellness.

  • Living close to parks and other recreation facilities is consistently related to higher physical activity levels for both adults and youth.
  • Adolescents with easy access to multiple recreation facilities were more physically active and less likely to be overweight or obese than adolescents without access to such facilities.
  • Increasing access to recreation facilities is an essential strategy for preventing childhood obesity.
  • Organized park programs and supervision may increase the use of parks and playgrounds and may also increase physical activity, particularly among youths.
  • Park renovations can increase vigorous physical activity among children and can also increase the use of certain types of facilities, including playgrounds and skate parks.
  • In distressed neighborhoods of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where vacant lots converted into small parks and community green spaces, residents in those neighborhoods reported significantly less stress and more exercise, according to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
  • Park and recreation agencies are the second largest public feeder of children, next to schools.
  • Park and recreation agencies annually serve approximately 560 million meals to children through summer and after‐school programs.
  • Park and recreation agencies in 30 communities across the country distributed 2.5 million healthy meals to children of low‐income families, helping to increase their nutrition levels.
  • Five U.S. communities implemented tobacco bans impacting 575,000 people in 22 parks.
  • Through a youth community gardening program implemented by 20 park and recreation agencies, 51 percent of participants reported eating more fruits and vegetables.
  • The youth community gardening program participants also reported they work better with others on a team, care more about the environment, and make friends easier as a result of working in the gardens(more than 70 percent).
  • A 2011 study conducted on Seattle’s park and recreation system revealed that Seattle’s residents were able to save $64 million in medical costs as a result of getting physical activity in the parks.


Humpel, N., Owen, N., Leslie, E., 2002. Environmental Factors Associated with Adults’ Participation in Physical Activity: A Review. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 22(3): 188–199.

Sallis, J.,&Kerr, J., 2006. Physical Activity and the Built Environment. President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports Research Digest. 7(4): 1–8.

Gordon–Larsen, P., Nelson, M., Page, P., et al., 2006. Inequality in the Built Environment Underlies Key Health Disparities in Physical Activity and Obesity. Pediatrics. 117(2): 417–424.

Shoup, L., Ewing, R., 2010. The Economic Benefits of Open Space, Recreation Facilities and Walkable Community Design. Active Living Research. Retrieved February 16, 2012.

Mowen, A., 2010. Parks, Playgrounds and Active Living. Active Living Research. Retrieved February 16, 2012. 

Branas, C., Cheney, R., et al., 2011. A Difference‐in‐Differences Analysis of Health, Safety, and Greening Vacant Urban Space. American Journal of Epidemiology. 174(11):1296‐306.

NRPA Proprietary Data.

The Trust for Public Land Center for City Park Excellence. 2011. The Economic Benefits of Seattle’s Park and Recreation System. Trust for Public Land. Retrieved February 16, 2012. 


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