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Prescribing children time outdoors to prevent obesity

Healthsource WJRT
Healthsource WJRT(WJRT)
Published: Sep. 3, 2020 at 8:41 AM EDT
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Now more than ever, we need an antidote for the stress, anxiety, and chronic illness in our lives. It’s even more critical when these issues occur in seemingly healthy children. That’s what led doctors at a San Francisco Bay area hospital to prescribe a new kind of medication. This one involved sunshine and fresh air.

Kevin Barazza has his passing game down to a science. You could never tell that sports is still a new world to him.

“Before I discovered soccer, I was eating junk food and playing a lot of video games. I wasn’t playing outside that much,” shared Barazza.

Barazza is not the only one. A recent study reveals that kids are taking part in 15 percent fewer outdoor activities than they did just six years ago. That has doctors concerned.

Laurie Bostick Cammon, MD, the Pediatric Director at Santa Clara County Park Prescription says, “A lot of the kids who come to my practice already have abnormal labs, already have high cholesterol, or pre-diabetes.”

Those conditions are all the hallmark of a sedentary lifestyle. But the doctor’s solution doesn’t involve patients stepping on a scale.

“We don’t want to focus on weight. We want to focus on lifestyle, and we want to focus on helping your child be healthier,” shared Dr. Cammon.

The result is a new kind of prescription for patients and families.

“What we do is we give our patients a prescription, a piece of paper that tells them where to go. They can either come themselves or we give them a parking pass, or we meet up as a group,” continued Dr. Cammon.

That little bit of time outdoors can make a huge difference. More than four hundred studies have been conducted on the benefits of nature. It does everything from reducing stress and pain to lowering diabetes.

“My family’s getting healthier because of the program,” said Barazza.

“Patients tell us that once we went on that walk and we got to nature, we felt like we could take a deep breath and we feel like a weight’s been lifted,” Dr. Cammon explained.

And that makes it all worthwhile.

“I think park prescriptions should be more common than prescribing a pill,” Barazza said.

More cities are implementing their own park prescription programs.  They include: Nature RX at Cornell University, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, and San Luis Valley Health in Colorado. Europe also has a similar program called Social Prescribing.

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