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Macro-Linkages between Health and Outdoor Recreation: The Role of Parks and Recreation Providers

Randall S. Rosenberger, Terry R. Bergerson, Jeffrey D. Kline


Physical inactivity, overweight, and obesity are growing national concerns owing to their associations with chronic diseases and overall well-being. Parks and recreation providers play a pivotal role in addressing these public health issues by providing the public with infrastructure that enables outdoor physical activity. Information about the health-related benefits of outdoor recreation can aid parks and recreation managers and policymakers in describing the benefits associated with recreation infrastructure and in their decision making regarding investments of scarce financial resources to provide high-quality recreation opportunities. Our analysis of county-level data for Oregon shows a measurable relationship between adult physical activity, overweight, obesity, and recreation supply and demand. The proportions of adults that are physically active are positively associated with the proportion of overweight adults, recreational trail densities, and the frequency of participation in recreational activities. The proportions of adults that are overweight are positively associated with the proportion of physically active adults, but negatively associated with hiking trail densities and frequency of participation in recreational activities. The proportions of adults that are obese, however, are negatively associated with frequency of participation in non-motorized trail-related recreational activities. The results of this macro-level model are consistent with information provided by micro-level analyses described in previous literature, in particular that the supply of and demand for recreation activities are associated with physically active people. In turn, counties comprising more active residents are associated with healthier counties as measured by the proportion of adults considered to be overweight. These macro-level relationships can be used by parks and recreation providers to indicate “at-risk” communities—those with low recreation supply and demand, and high proportions of overweight and obese people—and we provide an example using Oregon counties. Several policy recommendations emerge for parks and recreation providers based on our model results combined with evidence from the reviewed literature. First, parks and recreation providers should support the development of local recreation facilities, including nonmotorized trails, and promote their use by providing information about them and other existing resources. Second, providers should promote the overall health benefits of being physically active via outdoor recreation. Third, providers should identify at-risk communities and allocate resources to these communities in developing and promoting recreation opportunities. We illustrate each of these recommendations with examples of how they are being addressed in Oregon.?


Health, macro model, parks and recreation, policy, recreation grant program, recreation demand, recreation supply, spatial analysis

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