Press Release

Embargoed Until: Wednesday, November 12, 2014, 1:00 pm ET
Contact: NCEH/ATSDR Office of Communication
(770) 488-0700

CDC Releases New Tools to Improve Community Health Through Parks and Trails

In the 19th century, Frederick Law Olmsted, famous landscape architect in the 1800s, said that great public parks, such as his proposed Greensward (New York’s Central Park), would function as the “lungs of the city”—green open spaces where city residents could breathe clean air.

To encourage outdoor activity today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developed a parks and trails toolkit that will help communities create parks with expanded health benefits. In addition to Olmsted’s observations, access to parks can help kids get the 60 minutes of aerobic physical activity each day recommended to maintain good health. According to the 2014 CDC State Indicator Report on Physical Activity, less than 30 percent of youth (grades 9-12) in the United States get this recommended amount of aerobic physical activity. Additionally, more than 25 percent of adults report no leisure-time physical activity. Being physically active is one of the most important steps Americans of all ages can take to improve their health.

The Parks and Trails Health Impact Assessment (HIA) Toolkit has six components to empower individuals and help community planners address health when designing parks and trails. This framework allows public health departments, city planners, project managers, community groups, and other stakeholders work together to create healthier environments.

The toolkit includes:

  • Resources that provide data about health issues in an area, for example, childhood obesity rates, mortality rates, or percent of low birth weight babies
  • Recommendations from existing HIAs, including ways to improve access by evaluating park entry points and support physical activity that can help improve cardiovascular health
  • Citations that support the recommendations

“The closer a person lives to a park or trail, the more likely they are to walk or bike to those places; and if they can walk or bike, research suggests they are more likely to use it,” said Arthur Wendel, M.D., M.P.H., head of CDC’s Healthy Community Design Initiative in the National Center for Environmental Health. “Unfortunately, lack of access, because of distance or dangerous routes, can create a barrier to healthy choices.”

CDC is working with health departments throughout the country to learn about and use the principles of HIA. This tool focuses on how parks and trails can contribute to public health by highlighting key issues such as lack of access to parks and trails and encouraging physical activity.

In Omaha Nebraska, the Douglas County Health Department used funds from a 2011 CDC Healthy Community Design Initiative grant to complete an HIA on the Adams Park master plan. Before the Adams Park HIA, a park master plan had been completed that called for creating an urban farming and community gardening center in the park; however, the master plan did not address the neighborhood surrounding the park. The Adams Park HIA prompted the City of Omaha Planning Department to identify an oversight agency to implement gardening and food production in a series of empty lots near the park. The HIA also led to an increase in the number of entrances planned for the park, which will make the park more accessible to the 2,000 people living near Adams Park in the years to come.

In partnership with the City of Greenville, the South Carolina Institute of Medicine and Public Health (IMPH) completed an HIA that was used to create the parks, trails, and green space component of the city’s West Side Comprehensive PlanExternal. The plan is part of the redevelopment of an economically depressed area just west of downtown. Recommendations include a park with easy access, walking paths, basketball courts, open grassy areas, playfields, a community garden, and event space. The community anticipates that increased access to the park will improve the area’s low rates of physical activity. The HIA led to stronger local involvement in the planning process; as a result, the design of the park reflects residents’ desires. A potential park site has been identified and the City adopted a park master plan informed by the HIA in 2013.

Parks and trails can be a crucial component of addressing physical inactivity, injuries, mental health, and exposures to pollution. “The toolkit can help communities assess how everyone— regardless of age, ethnicity, race, income, or ability—can enjoy parks and trails often, easily, and safely,” Wendel said.

To learn more about CDC’s new Parks and Trails HIA Toolkit, visit:

To learn more about CDC’s HIA grantees, visit:

Page last reviewed: November 12, 2014