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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!


About ProfMikeWeed

Professor of Applied Policy Sciences | Head of Human and Life Sciences | Strategic Director, Centre for Sport, Physical Education & Activity Research (SPEAR) | Editor, Journal of Sport & Tourism


7 thoughts on “What’s parkrun worth?

  1. Thank you for your comments – the assumption isn’t that parkrun is responsible for people taking up exercise (although there is some evidence that parkrun is attractive to non-runners: http://jpubhealth.oxfordjournals.org/content/36/2/268.full.pdf) , nor that parkrun represents the ONLY exercise taken in any given week. Rather, it is that for HALF of those taking part, parkrun is additional to the exercise that they regularly take. This may be an additional 27 minutes to 3 hours of exercise already taken, or it may be the only 27 minutes of exercise taken in the week, or something in between or, indeed, above this. However, rather than being a “hole” in the analysis, this assumption is clear and acknowledged in the blogpost.

    Posted by ProfMikeWeed | May 4, 2016, 2:37 pm
  2. There are too many holes in this analysis.
    It is a gross presumption that ParkRun is responsible for the inactive taking up exercise or for being the reason for 27 minutes of exercise which would not otherwise be taken. Your figure of a mean time of 27min for 5k implies a level of fitness way beyond average. These people are have either trained a lot outwith ParkRun (and continue other training) or are naturally gifted, probably younger, atheletes. You cannot expect middle-aged “couch potatoes” to roll up to ParkRun and complete the course in sub-30 mins. I would venture that many completely inactive 40+ year olds would struggle to walk the distance in 60mins. You only have to look at the C25K program to realise what a challenge 5K is, and the internet is full of tales of failure on this program. If you look at ParkRun results, then there are few times in the 45-60 min bracket (which would suggest walking) therefore ParkRun participants are already runners. The biggest health gain is from encouraging the inactive to do something, not by improving the athletic prowess of the already healthily fit.
    I actually think ParkRun is generally OK and organised to minimise disruption to others, but don’t overestimate it’s health or financial value.

    Posted by Dr A F Henderson | April 23, 2016, 4:53 pm
  3. Yes, it could undervalue, and the key assumption in the calculations in the blog is that 50% would not have run for the average 27mins at another point in that week had their parkrun event not taken place. There are many multifaceted factors that affect (a) take-up and (b) retention in physical activity, and to assume parkrun is responsible for stimulating all other physical activity every week among those previously inactive, and for the continuation of all of that activity (if indeed it has continued), is a stretch, so I would suggest that your figure is an overestimate. Mine, though, is undoubtedly conservative, but it focuses on physical activity that has been measured and is verifiable and that is clearly attributable to parkrun – taking this approach avoids accusations of exaggeration. The truth (such as that exists) is probably somewhere in between.

    Posted by ProfMikeWeed | April 14, 2016, 11:28 am
  4. really interesting and many different assumptions that could be made so not straightforward .. however could this undervalue parkrun? per parkrun statement “parkrun has successfully moved nearly 60,000 previously inactive people into regular healthy activity” so instead of the 27 minutes exercise used, and using 60,000 people at an average of a conservative 120 minutes exercise per week (including the Saturday parkrun), am I right in saying this could equate to c£55m worth of health improvement over a year?

    Posted by Brian Brooks | April 14, 2016, 11:18 am
  5. Reblogged this on Any Idiot Can Run and commented:
    I’m not sure I could add any better points than these to highlight the ridiculousness of the decision by the parish council to charge parkrun for use of the park.

    Posted by cmmercer | April 14, 2016, 9:00 am
  6. That’s very interesting I was always wondering about how we can quantify and show real value for money towards health from our phsyciala ctivity programme and intiatievs, the QALY is an interesting measurement..



    Shane Hayes

    Sports Inclusion Officer

    Sligo Sport and Recreation Partnership

    SSRP Offices,

    Riverside, Sligo.

    Ph: 071 9161511



    Posted by Shane Hayes | April 14, 2016, 8:48 am
  7. possibly significantly undervalued, as the annual mean attendance is rather higher than last week’s figure… but I guess, with the assumptions over incremental rather than substitutional minutes of exercise, its as close as is realistic… nevertheless, an interesting insight into something about which I knew nothing….. thanks!

    Posted by Neil Strenge | April 14, 2016, 7:03 am

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