Birmingham REACH for Better Health, a coalition working to reduce health disparities in local communities by increasing access to healthy food choices and opportunities for physical activity, will introduce a Parks Prescription program to Birmingham. Parks Rx will officially launch at a press conference Thursday, Sept. 22, at 3 p.m. in Avondale Park.
A project of Birmingham REACH for Better Health, led by the UAB Minority Health & Health Disparities Research Center, the Parks Rx program is modeled after successful initiatives in the United States in which health care providers prescribe exercise for their patients and direct them to outdoor places to exercise. Funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Parks Rx aims to connect patients to more than 100 parks in Birmingham and surrounding communities where they can be more active.
“Only 25 percent of American adults get the recommended amount of physical activity, and 29 percent don’t engage in any leisure-time physical activity at all,” said Mona Fouad, M.D., principal investigator for REACH and professor and director of the UAB Division of Preventive Medicine. “This sedentary lifestyle contributes to an increased incidence of obesity, which leads to chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some cancers.”
Studies have shown that access to the outdoors and green spaces reduces stress, promotes physical activity and results in a nearly 50 percent increase in exercise.
“Parks, playgrounds, greenways and trails help keep Birmingham residents fit and healthy,” said Kevin Moore, director of Birmingham Parks and Recreation. “Parks also promote community participation and involvement.”
Parks Rx starts with a conversation between the patient and health care provider. Physicians at the Jefferson County Department of Health already counsel patients on the importance of physical activity, but the Parks Rx program solidifies the message into something tangible.
After receiving a healthy living prescription, patients are directed to the Parks Rx website with its interactive map, where they can search for local parks and green spaces in their ZIP code. The map populates pinpoints for area parks, with links to park details such as amenities, safety, trail lengths, hours of operation and other information. Parks Rx is also available in Spanish.
The Jefferson County Department of Health launched the Parks Rx program on July 20, 2016, within its pediatric clinics. According to Mark Wilson, M.D., health officer for Jefferson County, Parks Rx has been well-received by patients, parents of pediatric patients and physicians.
“A parent from Western Health Center said she would be placing the prescription on her refrigerator as a reminder to her family about daily exercise and healthy eating,” Wilson said. “Another parent said she would use the prescription to increase her own physical activity.”
Khalilah Brown, M.D., a pediatrician at the health department’s Central Health Center says the Parks Prescription program empowers children and their families to get involved in the health of the entire family.
“Children especially like the ability to use the QR code to identify parks and trails near their homes and schools,” Brown said.
The Freshwater Land Trust, Jefferson County Department of Health, Birmingham Parks and Recreation, and UAB MHRC worked together through the REACH coalition to bring Parks Rx to fruition in Birmingham after studying similar initiatives from national partners in conservation and health. These partners include the National Land Trust Alliance, Kaiser Permanente, the Institute of the Golden Gate and others that are part of a larger network focused on reconnecting people to the outdoors to combat health disparities among children and adults.
“We have the perfect recipe for Parks Rx here in Birmingham,” said Libba Vaughan, executive director at the Freshwater Land Trust. “Just in the city of Birmingham alone, we have over 100 parks for people to enjoy. Birmingham is well-placed to successfully launch Parks Rx. We have one of the country’s leading universities, working in preventive medicine and health disparities.
“We have a county health department dedicated to preventive medicine and encouraging physical activity, and we have a strong conservation ethic in our community that is committed to preserving and promoting outdoor recreation.”
After piloting the program this year, the coalition’s goal is to expand Parks Rx to other local health providers in the Birmingham area.
For more information about the Parks Rx program, visit www.REACHforbetterhealth.com/parksrx.