How city parks help improve public health, GG

Physical activity opportunities in parks help to increase fitness and reduce obesity.

Overweight and obesity are epidemic problems across the country, and related conditions such as diabetes are on the rise. Scientists attribute these worrisome trends to two factors: more calories consumed, and fewer calories burned. A primary focus of attention is providing environments where people can be physically active. Parks offer such an opportunity.

  • Active park users were less likely to be overweight than those who had longer park visits and either used the park for passive activities or did not use the park at all;
  • Active park use was negatively related to visits to a physician other than routine checkups; and
  • The level of physical activity was the strongest predictor of lower blood pressure.

A study in the October 2000 issue of The Physician and Sportsmedicine found that physically active individuals had lower annual direct medical costs than did inactive people. The cost difference was $330 per person, based on 1987 dollars. If all inactive American adults became physically active, the potential savings could be $29.2 billion in 1987 dollars, or $76.6 billion in 2000 dollars.

Certain features predict greater use for physical activity. These include accessibility, proximity, good lighting, toilets and drinking water, and well-designed and well-maintained paths, as well as attractive scenery (Frumkin, 2003).

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