How Cities Use Parks to Improve Public Health

City Parks Forum Briefing Papers 7

By Howard Frumkin, Mary Eysenbach



People value the time they spend in city parks, whether walking a dog, playing basketball, or having a picnic. Along with these expected leisure amenities, parks can also provide measurable health benefits, from providing direct contact with nature and a cleaner environment, to opportunities for physical activity and social interaction. A telephone survey conducted for the American Public Health Association found that 75 percent of adults believe parks and recreation must play an important role in addressing America's obesity crisis.

Because of the different ways people experience parks, cities need to provide all types, from neighborhood facilities to large natural areas. In fact, many of the health benefits described below can be best achieved through small-scale, readily accessible sites. A full reckoning of the benefits of parks will better inform public policy about parks and provide a useful public health tool.


Page Count
Date Published
Jan. 1, 2004
Adobe PDF
American Planning Association

About the Authors

Howard Frumkin
Howard Frumkin, a physician and epidemiologist, is Dean, and Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, at the University of Washington School of Public Health. He From 2005 to 2010 he served at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as director of the National Center for Environmental Health and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (NCEH/ATSDR), where he established CDC’s programs in Climate Change and in Healthy Community Design, and as Special Assistant to the CDC Director for Climate Change and Health. From 1990 to 2005, he was Professor of Public Health and Medicine at Emory University. Dr. Frumkin’s research interests include public health aspects of the built environment, climate change, energy policy, and nature contact; toxic effects of chemicals; and environmental health policy. He currently serves on the Boards of the, the Bullitt Foundation, the Children and Nature Network, Seattle Parks Foundation, and the Pacific Northwest Diabetes Research Institute, on the Executive Committee of the Regional Open Space Strategy for Central Puget Sound, on the Yale Climate and Energy Institute External Advisory Board, and on Procter & Gamble’s Sustainability Expert Advisory Panel. He is the author or co-author of over 200 scientific journal articles and chapters, and his books include Urban Sprawl and Public Health (2004), Emerging Illness and Society (2004), Environmental Health: From Global to Local (2005 and 2010), Safe and Healthy School Environments (2006), Green Healthcare Institutions: Health, Environment, Economics (2007), and Making Healthy Places: Designing and Building for Health, Well-Being, and Sustainability (2011). Dr. Frumkin received his A.B. from Brown, his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, and his M.P.H. and Dr.P.H. from Harvard. He is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Collegium Ramazzini and the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland.

Mary Eysenbach