DHHS, NIH News  
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)

Thursday, May 27, 2004

NHLBI Communications Office
(301) 496-4236

Susan Potts
(703) 858-2163
E-mail (spotts@nrpa.org)


National community-based program focuses on choosing heart-healthy foods and increasing physical activity to reduce obesity and risk of heart disease

From eating more heart-healthy foods to being more physically active, participants in Hearts N’ Parks programs across the country report significant improvements in what they know, think, and do about heart-healthy eating and physical activity, according to the 2003 performance report. A collaboration between the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health, Hearts N’ Parks is a community-based program to reduce the growing trend of obesity and to lower the risk of coronary heart disease in the United States.

The performance report compares the scores of pre-test and post-test questionnaires completed by 2,800 participants from 48 Hearts N’ Parks sites (Magnet Centers) across the country. For example, when asked whether they choose healthier foods over less healthy foods, children’s scores improved 14 percent, and adolescents’ scores increased by 15 percent. Furthermore, although all age groups reported increasing their physical activity levels, adults significantly improved by 15 percent; adults also reported reducing the number of hours in a week spent being sedentary, such as watching TV, by 2 to 4 hours.

“While obesity is clearly a national issue, the solution lies at the local level,” says John Thorner, NRPA executive director. “Community park and recreation systems play a vital role in delivering both education and public places for citizens to pursue healthier lifestyles.”

NHLBI Acting Director Dr. Barbara Alving lauded the partnership between the two organizations. “The results of the Hearts N’ Parks program show that when science-based public health agencies such as NHLBI work closely with community-based organizations such as park and recreation departments, we really can have a positive impact.”

The impact of Hearts N’ Parks expanded significantly during 2003: the number of participants more than doubled (up from 1200 in 2002) as did the number of programs (142 programs in 2003, compared to 68 in 2002). In addition, Magnet Centers significantly increased participation by adolescents, adult males, and Hispanics -- groups that traditionally are less likely to participate in recreation programs.

Because the activities are offered as part of local park and recreation programs such as summer day camps, after-school and senior programs, they are readily accessible to community members. NHLBI provides science-based educational materials about lifestyle choices that can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, such as developing healthier eating habits and participating in regular physical activity. For the second year, more than 50 Hearts N’ Parks Magnet Centers in 11 states are part of the program.

Additional performance results include:

  • Children learned to identify healthy foods and reported being more willing to choose healthier foods over less healthy foods. On average, post-test scores from 1,735 children increased 26 percent for heart-healthy eating knowledge; 15 percent for heart-healthy eating intention. Children also increased their interest in various forms of physical activity.

  • Hearts N’ Parks programs for adolescents expanded in 2003. Data from nearly 370 teens (up from 93 teens in 2002) indicate significant improvements in heart-healthy eating knowledge and attitude, and overweight/obesity knowledge and attitude.

  • Adult participants significantly improved their knowledge of heart-healthy eating, overweight and obesity health risks, proper ways to engage in regular physical activity, causes of high blood pressure, and ways to control blood cholesterol levels. They also improved their heart-healthy eating behavior and attitude toward heart-healthy eating, overweight and obesity, and physical activity.

Dr. Alving adds, “We applaud the commitment of NRPA and its members to increasing public awareness about the need to eat healthy, participate in regular physical activity, and maintain a healthy weight -- and to empowering individuals of all ages to adopt these behaviors to lower their risk of obesity and heart disease.”

The complete report of 2003 Hearts N’ Parks Magnet Center Performance Data can be found on NRPA’s website at www.nrpa.org (click on Programs & Partnerships, Magnet Centers, Hearts N’ Parks) and on the NHLBI Web site at www.nhlbi.nih.gov (click on Networks and Outreach, Hearts N’ Parks).

Hearts N’ Parks Magnet Centers are located in the following locations:

  • Arizona - Glendale, Phoenix, Sierra Vista;
  • Florida - Largo, Lee County, Oldsmar, Tallahassee, Tamarac;
  • Georgia - Athens, Roswell, Savannah;
  • Illinois - Decatur, Homewood, Rockford, Urbana;
  • Indiana - Bloomington, Fort Wayne, Gary, Indianapolis, Lafayette, South Bend;
  • Maryland – Baltimore, Howard County, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Queen Anne’s County;
  • Michigan – Adrian, Meridian Township, Monroe, Muskegon;
  • Missouri – Jefferson City, Kansas City, Poplar Bluff, Rolla, Springfield, St. Louis County;
  • Nevada – Henderson, Las Vegas, Reno;
  • New Mexico – Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Rio Rancho, Roswell;
  • Ohio – Bowling Green, Elyria, Greene County.

Magnet Centers are also located in the following Marine Corps. bases: Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii; Camp Pendleton, California; Beaufort, South Carolina; and Cherry Point and Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. A map of Magnet Centers, with links to program descriptions, is also available on the Hearts N’ Parks Website (http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/prof/heart/obesity/hrt_n_pk/hnp_map.htm).

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute is part of the National Institutes of Health, the Federal Government's primary agency for biomedical and behavioral research and a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NHLBI leads the national research program in diseases of the heart, blood vessels, lung, and blood; blood resources; and sleep disorders. The NHLBI also conducts educational activities for health professionals and the public in these and related areas, including overweight and obesity. Hearts N’ Parks is a program of the NHLBI Obesity Education Initiative, established in 1991 to help reduce the prevalence of overweight, obesity, and physical inactivity in order to lower the risk, and overall morbidity and mortality from heart disease and other conditions such as Type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea. For more information, visit www.nhlbi.nih.gov.

National Recreation and Park Association is a national, not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing park, recreation and conservation efforts that enhance the quality of life for all Americans. Through its network of 23,000 recreation and park professionals and civic leaders, NRPA encourages the promotion of healthy lifestyles, recreation initiatives for youths in high-risk environments, and conservation of natural and cultural resources. Headquartered in Ashburn,Virginia, NRPA works closely with local, state and national recreation and park agencies, citizen groups and corporations in carrying out its objectives. Priorities include advocating favorable legislation and public policy, continuing education for park and recreation professionals and citizens, professional certification and university accreditation, increasing public awareness of the importance of parks and recreation, research and technical assistance. For more information, visit www.nrpa.org.

NHLBI logo
NIH logo