REDUCING NATIONWIDE OBESITY STARTS IN NEIGHBORHOODS
Hearts N’ Parks Program Brings Science, Skills to 50 Communities
Children, adolescents, and adults reported adopting healthier behaviors
– such as choosing heart-healthy foods more often – after
participating in a Hearts N’ Parks program, according to a
new report on the community-based lifestyle initiative. In addition,
adults said they boosted their level of regular physical activity
after the program. Hearts N’ Parks was developed in 1999 by
the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the National
Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) to reduce the growing trend
of obesity and the risk of coronary heart disease in the United
The new report, available on the NRPA Web site (www.nrpa.org),
summarizes the results of written questionnaires administered by
Hearts N’ Parks program staff to more than 1200 children,
adolescents, and adults on their knowledge, behavior, and attitudes
regarding heart-healthy eating and physical activity before and
after participating in a program in 2002. Overall, participants
improved in nearly every indicator.
“High blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, heart
disease, and stroke – these are just a few of the health problems
that obesity and overweight contribute to,” said Dr. Claude
Lenfant, director of NHLBI, a component of the National Institutes
of Health. “Hearts N’ Parks is all about bringing what
research has shown about the health risks associated with overweight
and obesity to the community – and empowering people to make
better lifestyle choices in order to improve their overall health.”
Hearts N’ Parks incorporates science-based information about
lifestyle choices that can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease
and skills for adopting heart-healthy behaviors into regular activities
offered by park and recreation departments and other community-based
agencies. The program focuses on encouraging Americans of all ages
to aim for a healthy weight, follow a heart-healthy eating plan,
and engage in regular physical activity. Training for recreational
staff and tools for measuring the impact of their activities is
More than 50 Hearts N’ Parks sites (“magnet centers”)
are now active in 11 states: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois,
Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, and Ohio.
Many magnet centers are holding special “FunFit” events
in July – including several that are tied to local Fourth
of July celebrations. For example, 40,000 people are expected at
a July 4 event in Athens, GA, where there will be a special Hearts
N’ Parks tent with games, prizes, and health and wellness
information. On July 5, residents of Roswell, NM, can measure their
body fat and learn how to grill low-fat foods in conjunction with
the city’s annual Alien Chase. Over 100,000 people are expected
at a July 6 concert and fireworks event in South Bend, IN that will
feature Hearts N’ Parks displays, nutrition and fitness quizzes.
A July 11 Fun Fit Festival Field Day in Las Vegas, NV will be held
for children in summer day camps who will participate in field games,
swimming, and a healthy lunch contest.
“We want to reinforce the idea that celebrating good health
is as important as celebrating democracy – and that individuals
and families can have fun doing both,” commented John Thorner,
CAE, executive director of NRPA. July events also commemorate Recreation
and Parks Month, an annual public awareness initiative of NRPA.
“This year’s theme, ‘Community Sports and Health,’
ties in nicely with the goals of Hearts N’ Parks programs,”
The Hearts N’ Parks model supports the Department of Health
and Human Services’ Steps to a Healthier US initiative, based
on the President's Healthier US Initiative. These initiatives highlight
the influence that healthy lifestyles and behaviors have in achieving
and maintaining good health for individuals of all ages. They also
encourage public-private partnerships to support community-driven
programs on healthy lifestyles that contribute directly to the prevention
or treatment of one of three key health problems: obesity, diabetes,
The new report, “Hearts N’ Parks – Phase II:
Report of 2002 Magnet Center Performance Data,” includes information
on 68 programs which varied in size and duration. Data was collected
by 36 Hearts N’ Parks sites during their first year as a magnet
center. Programs for children or adolescents were typically provided
during summer camps or as after-school activities for 7 to 11 weeks.
Adult programs, which lasted an average of 12 weeks, attracted largely
seniors and women.
“Combining proven health interventions and skills training
with local recreational facilities seemed like a natural,”
added Karen Donato, S.M., R.D., coordinator of the NHLBI Obesity
Education Initiative. “Now we have the information to show
that it really works.”
Highlights of the performance report include:
- Children’s scores improved significantly in all
areas: heart-healthy eating knowledge (8 percent increase in correct
answers), behavior (14 percent increase), and intention (19 percent
- Children’s scores in physical activity attitude increased;
they reported that they “learned” or “would like
to play again” an average of five activities while they “got
better at “approximately seven activities.
- Adolescents’ scores improved significantly in heart-healthy
eating behavior (20 percent increase), intention (15 percent increase),
and in overweight/obesity knowledge (7 percent increase).
- Adult participants significantly improved their scores
in all areas of knowledge, attitude, and behavior studied. They
increased their knowledge of heart-healthy nutrition with a 9 percent
increase in correct answers. Scores increased by 6 percent to 7
percent in knowledge of overweight/obesity risks, physical activity,
causes of high blood pressure, and ways to control cholesterol levels.
Post-test scores also suggest healthier attitudes toward overweight/obesity,
heart-healthy eating habits, and physical activity, and improvements
in how frequently participants chose healthy foods, based on self-reports.
- Adult participants reported adding, on average, 2 hours
of moderate physical activity per week (from 8 hours to 10 hours),
such as bicycling, walking and golfing, after participating in Hearts
N’ Parks. In addition, they reduced the time spent in sedentary
activities by an average of 8 hours per week, down to 33 hours.
- Post-test scores of participants over 60 years old showed
greater improvement overall than younger adults. Seniors’
pretest knowledge scores were lower than younger adults’ scores,
but post-test knowledge scores were comparable. Seniors also significantly
increased time spent weekly in physical activity on average from
slightly fewer than 6 hours to more than 8.5 hours, and significantly
lowered the amount of time each week in sedentary tasks by 10 hours,
down to 20 hours.
The performance report is available (as a PDF file) at http://www.nrpa.org/pdf/HNPReport6-25-03.pdf.
For more information about obesity, heart disease, or Hearts N’
Parks – including a map of magnet center sites and a video
about the program – visit the NHLBI
Web site (at www.nhlbi.nih.gov) or go directly to the Hearts
N' Parks pages (at http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/prof/heart/obesity/hrt_n_pk/index.htm).
Community organizations interested in becoming a Hearts N' Parks
site should contact the NRPA at email@example.com or 1-800-649-3042.
NHLBI is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the
Federal Government's primary agency for biomedical and behavioral
research. NIH is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services. Information about Hearts N Parks, as well as cardiovascular,
lung, blood, and sleep disorders is available online at the NHLBI
Web site (www.nhlbi.nih.gov).
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NOTE TO REPORTERS/PRODUCERS: For contact information on the Hearts
N’ Parks magnet center in your area, call the NHLBI Communications
Office at (301) 496-4236.