Washington, Aug 5 : Recreation and park agencies can play a vital in promoting healthy lifestyles, according to a new study.
A research team led by Andrew Mowen, Ph.D., associate professor of recreation and park management at Penn State conducted a nationwide survey of over 1,200 recreation and park administrators and found that recreation and park agencies were another key player in the fight against childhood obesity, sedentary lifestyles, and chronic diseases.
"Community recreation and parks is the health provider that you don't know about," said Mowen.
"Traditionally, these agencies are considered as organizers of games and sports in a town's parks or ball fields. But our study shows that 9 out of 10 recreation and park professionals are actively involved in a health partnership, sometimes several of them," he added.
The study found that 88 percent said their organization 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 organizations.
"Twenty years ago, health care providers didn't consider recreation and park professionals to be a partner in the campaigns to promote health," said Geoffrey Godbey, co-principal investigator of the study, and professor emeritus in the recreation, park and tourism management department.
"But in the 1990s, community-based health partnerships were starting to consider the role of recreation and parks in promoting physical activity and quality of life, since many related programs are offered by recreation and park managers," he added.
Municipal recreation and parks agencies provide access to low-cost facilities such as ball fields, parks and walking trails for programs, 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, such as trails, recreation centers, outdoor courts, and outdoor swimming facilities," said Mowen.
"Parks, trails and recreation centres can also serve as settings for physical rehabilitation," he added.