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What’s parkrun worth?

Over the course of a year, parkrun UK improves the health of the UK population to a value of circa £8.7million.

The decision by Stoke Gifford Parish Council in Bristol to impose a financial charge on parkrun to deliver its free weekly running event in their local park has attracted a great deal of media attention. It begs the question, what is parkrun worth?… specifically, to the health of the population? One way to consider this is through the concept of the Quality Adjusted Life Year (QALY).

A QALY is a way of measuring the quality and quantity of health improvements. A QALY is equivalent to one full year of life at full health for one individual, so two years of life for an individual at 50% of full health is the equivalent of one QALY, and so on. An analysis of QALYs is the way in which the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) assesses whether health treatments and interventions are worthwhile and provide good value for money. Any treatment or intervention which costs £20,000 per year or less per additional QALY generated is considered to provide good value for money.

So how does parkrun stack up? Here’s the calculations:

  • 85,595 people took part in parkrun last week, running for an average time of 27 minutes 37 seconds each
  • This generated 2,253,410 minutes of physical activity
  • Assuming half of those participating wouldn’t have done this physical activity without parkrun, that’s 1,126,705 additional minutes of physical activity
  • In analyses endorsed by NICE, each hour of additional physical activity has been shown to generate 0.00044487 QALYs
  • Thus, last week parkrun generated 8.35 QALYs
  • If each QALY, by NICE standards, is worth £20,000, that’s over £167,000 of health improvement generated by parkrun last week
  • Over the course of a year, that’s almost £8.7million worth of health improvement

parkrun is predicated on offering free events, run by volunteers, with no barriers to participation. If this model is undermined by one Parish Council’s short-sighted decision to start charging for park use, which may be a precedent setting thin end of the wedge, the health of the population stands to suffer to the tune of £8.7million per year. That’s a pretty big price to pay!

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