Chicago Park District

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Program: Chicago Park District

Based in: Chicago, Illinois

Participating Agency(s): Chicago Park District

Unique Feature(s): Uses economic incentives to encourage patients to exercise; includes a detailed paper trail of prescriptions filled, which provides an opportunity to evaluate efficacy of model.


Contact: See website


In 2003 the Chicago Park District launched a program to provide free gym memberships to all Chicago residents whose physician diagnosed them with an obesity-related disease (e.g., diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, heart disease) and prescribed exercise as part of their treatment. The program sought to eliminate cost as a barrier to exercise for these patients and to create an incentive for physicians to refer patients to the District's fitness centers. In addition to an extensive network of parks and outdoor recreation sites, the Chicago Park District has 66 parks that offer field houses with fitness centers. Currently, Chicago residents must pay for a 12-week quarterly membership to use a specific fitness center.

Logistically, fitness centers accept a prescription only if it explicitly states that it is for an obesity-related condition. In order to be accepted, physicians must write detailed, accurate prescriptions. One participating medical center developed a standardized prescription pad with spaces for each required piece of information. The prescription can be used for only two sessions (24 weeks) and must be renewed by the physician each 12-week quarter, or else the patient will be charged the regular membership fee ($30–75). The District creates a paper trail to track the prescriptions; copies of membership documents are kept at individual fitness centers and at the District’s central office.

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