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Pennsylvanians consider parks an essential part of the health care system

A recent Penn State study said that Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly consider parks, trails and open space to be a key part of our health care system. Image: Getty Images © Simon Potter
May 30, 2017

Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly consider parks, trails and open space to be an essential component of the health care system, according to a Penn State study.

Findings show that 73 percent of adults surveyed across Pennsylvania and 68 percent of primary care clinic visitors in Hershey, Pennsylvania, consider parks, trails and open space to be a critical part of the health care system.

This belief was widespread across a variety of different demographic groups including age, race and income status. Results demonstrate the potential for parks and recreation to be an innovative approach to improving public health.

“While residents believe parks are a key part of our health care system, local, state and federal officials continue to perceive they are discretionary services, often making parks a target for budget cuts,” said lead investigator Andrew Mowen, professor of recreation, park and tourism management at Penn State. “However, this study suggests that parks, trails and open space are perceived by the public to be a valuable health asset — one that should receive greater funding and investment priority among health policy makers, advocates and organizations.”

Data for this study came from two Pennsylvania surveys. The first was a mail questionnaire distributed to a random sample of 12,000 adults in 2014 as part of Pennsylvania’s outdoor recreation plan. Researchers received 2,240 responses from this statewide survey effort.

A second survey was conducted with outpatients at a general internal medicine clinic managed by one of the study’s co-investigators, Christopher Sciamanna, professor of medicine and public health services at Penn State College of Medicine.

“In the near future, doctors will be paid more for keeping people healthy rather than just for seeing patients when they're sick. Parks are a potentially very important tool for keeping people healthy and for building social connections, and, from this survey we can see that patients already understand that,” Sciamanna said.

Based on the widespread agreement in both the statewide and clinic samples, this study provides compelling evidence that parks, trails and open spaces are part of the larger health care system. Engaging with these areas could very well be a viable preventive-health solution.

The findings appeared in a recent issue of Preventive Medicine Reports and is publicly available.

Other co-authors included Austin Barrett, doctoral candidate in recreation, park and tourism management at Penn State; Alan Graefe, professor of recreation, park and tourism management at Penn State; and Jennifer Kraschnewski, associate professor of medicine and public health sciences at the Penn State College of Medicine.

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