Hearts N' Parks, a national, community-based program developed and supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), was launched at a special media event in Arlington, Virginia, on July 18.
The kick-off event, co-sponsored by the Arlington County Department of Parks, Recreation, and Community Resources, introduced the first Washington, DC area Hearts N' Parks program. The event began with a news conference featuring U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health and Surgeon General David Satcher; NHLBI Director Dr. Claude Lenfant; NRPA President-Elect Alice Conkey; Arlington County Board Chair Barbara Favola; Arlington County Department of Parks, Recreation, and Community Resources Director Toni Hubbard; and special guest, Olympic champion figure skater Michael Weiss.
Following the news conference, individuals from ages 5 to 85 participated in healthy snacks cooking and other nutrition demonstrations; jump rope and relay race competitions; volleyball, tennis and race-walking clinics; and blood pressure screenings. The Arlington branch of Fresh Fields provided cooking demonstrations and donated box lunches for all event participants, and the American Heart Association, Arlington County 4-H and Cooperative Extension Service, Arlington Hospital, Georgetown and George Washington Universities' women's volleyball teams, and the U.S. Tennis Association provided demonstrations and exhibits.
Hearts N' Parks is an innovative program that aims to reduce the growing trend of obesity and the risk of coronary heart disease in the U.S. by encouraging Americans of all ages to engage in regular physical activity, to follow a heart-healthy eating plan, and to aim for a healthy weight. Through Hearts N' Parks, science-based information about lifestyle choices that can reduce one's risk of heart disease and skills for incorporating heart healthy behaviors into one's life are taught as part of regular activities offered by park and recreation departments and other community-based agencies. The program also provides tools for measuring the impact of these activities.
"A major goal of Healthy People 2010 is reducing the prevalence of overweight and obesity, as well as improving the nutritional status and level of physical activity among all Americans," said Surgeon General David Satcher, MD, Ph.D. "Hearts N' Parks shows what the Federal government can accomplish with community and private sector support to improve the health of Americans from all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds."
A primary goal of Hearts N' Parks is to reduce the growing trend of overweight and obese children and adults in the United States. These individuals are at increased risk for developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer, as well as other conditions, such as gallbladder disease, sleep apnea and other respiratory problems, and osteoarthritis.
The numbers of overweight children and adolescents, as well as obese adults in the United States have doubled over the past two decades. Approximately 97 million adults, or 55 percent, are currently overweight or obese. In addition, one in five children over the age of 6 is considered overweight. Research has shown that weight loss reduces blood pressure and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, increases high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and reduces blood glucose levels all factors associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
"Hearts N' Parks builds upon the NHLBI's efforts to work with communities to reduce the prevalence of coronary heart disease," said NHLBI Director Claude Lenfant, MD. "It is a fine example of how we can apply what research has shown to improve the health of all Americans."
Hearts N' Parks was piloted last summer in 12 communities with 33 sites in North Carolina involving more than 2,000 participants. An evaluation showed that participants retained information about heart-healthy behaviors and intended to eat healthier. In addition, children reported learning new physical activities and improving their performance in others; seniors reported feeling healthier and experiencing less pain in their daily lives by the end of the program.
The Arlington Hearts N' Parks program will include activities that promote heart-healthy eating in existing elementary after-school and playground camp programs and senior programs. Heart-health classes will also be offered through recreation and leisure programs in the fall.
"We are privileged to be part of this important public health effort that demonstrates our commitment to improving the health and well-being of our communities," said Alice Conkey, NRPA president-elect. The NRPA will hold a training program on Hearts N' Parks for recreational staff during its annual conference in Phoenix in October. To date, nearly 90 recreation and park agencies in more than 35 states have expressed interest in becoming Hearts N' Parks communities.
Olympic champion figure skater Michael Weiss, a Northern Virginia resident who earned a silver medal in the 1998 Winter Olympics, also participated in the program launch. Weiss, who directs programs for Fairfax Ice Arena, where he has trained for many years, noted, "Public recreation facilities are essential for our communities. They can serve as a hub for people of all ages and backgrounds to maintain good health, to pursue their dreams, and to build lasting friendships."
For more information, contact the NHLBI Communications Office at (301) 496-4236.
Community organizations interested in signing up to become a Hearts N' Parks community should contact the National Recreation and Park Association at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-649-3042.
Additional information about Hearts N' Parks, obesity, and cardiovascular disease is available on the NHLBI Web site at www.nhlbi.nih.gov.