Can Prescriptions For Nature Defeat Childhood Obesity?
Parents taking their children for a check-up in Georgia may be in for a surprise. If the physician’s assistant thinks your child needs more exercise, she may prescribe healthy hikes in the great outdoors; she’ll give you a prescription that you can trade in for free park passes.
Georgia’s State Park system has teamed up with the Georgia Association of Physicians Assistants to make healthy living a bit more fun.
Rx For Fitness
“Rx for Fitness” is part of the State Park system’s new Tons of Fun Fitness Challenge, which encourages citizens to use outdoor recreation as part of their regular exercise. The idea is that park visitors may find that exploring a canyon is more fun than a step machine, and that hiking along a waterfall burns more calories than a treadmill. And, of course, that they will feel much better overall being outdoors rather than sweating it out in a stuffy weight room.
That’s the program in Georgia, but the idea of “prescriptions for fitness” is taking off around the country. The National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), as part of their Children and Nature Initiative, is holding a series of “train-the-trainer” workshops to educate pediatric health care providers about prescribing outdoor activities to children. The program also connects health care providers with local nature sites, so that they can refer families to safe and easily accessible outdoor areas, and it provides Continuing Education Units and a small stipend for participating doctors.
Unstructured Outdoor Activities Vital To Improving Children’s Health
This is exciting news, and definitely an idea whose time has come. With so much research indicating that unstructured outdoor activities may improve children’s health by increasing physical activity, reducing stress, and serving as a support mechanism for attention disorders, it seems obvious that health professionals should play a part in encouraging outdoor play.
And there are other programs too, often with incentives built in. For example, children that return to hike additional trails on the Blue Ridge Parkway as part of the Kids in Parks program receive toys and games. Chicago residents that receive a prescription from their doctor to exercise receive a free gym membership valued at $30 to $70 depending upon their income.
Kids nowadays need all the help they can get in being active. Obesity rates are skyrocketing: in the United States, there are approximately 12.5 million children and adolescents who are obese. Their couch-potato lifestyles aren’t helping. Today, children 8 to 18 years old devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes to using computers, playing video games, and watching television during a typical day, according to a 2010 national study by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
Get Those Kids Outside!
Let’s all work together to get those kids outside and re-connected to nature!
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