Doctors are writing prescriptions for children to play outside
-Oct 8, Hannah Hargrave, Living -
Here’s a prescription you might actually want to pick up for your child! Doctors are now pulling out their prescription pads to prescribe, not just medication, but outdoor play too.
A new non-profit program in Washington D.C called Park Rx America aims to help families achieve better health through activity in local parks, trails, and green spaces.
It encourages physicians to include a discussion about their young patient’s outdoor activity during check ups.
“I do at least one a day or more,” says Dr. Robert Zarr the founder and medical director of the program. “I really let the patient write it.”
Zarr explained that the most common scenarios for a prescription are children who are overweight, those with anxiety issues and depressed teenagers.
He says he asks: “Is there anything they want to do that’s enjoyable outside, that they’re willing to commit to?” For example, “you just told me you play soccer. How often do you go? Would you be willing to commit to going once a week or twice a week?”
In some states the website actually allows the doctor to search for appropriate parks near the patient’s home. They can then specifically prescribe where they want them to go, the activity, the duration and the frequency of their visits.
Zarr – who admits the idea is “more common sense than rocket science” – was inspired by Richard Louv and his book “Last Child in the Woods” in which he wrote about what he called nature-deficit disorder.
At the time he cited more than 60 studies which looked at both the benefits of being outside and the problems that can arise from being too isolated. Nowadays there are more than 700 of these studies.
Park Rx America is not the only program of it’s kind either.
In 2017 another East Coast program, NaturePHL, was launched of a similar nature
The initiative is a collaboration between the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), City of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, US Forest Service and The Schuylkill Center.
Dr. Christopher Renjilian who is piloting the program says the benefits of playing outside and connecting with nature are:
- Pragmatic: Studies show children naturally increase activity levels just being outdoors vs indoors.
- Inclusive: Nature “tends to meet children where they are” meaning children of any age with a wide range of interests will be able to find activities they can engage in outdoors.
- Psychological: Stress, and anxiety is alleviated by being outdoors. Outside play benefits mental and physical health.
Of course it’s not just children who benefit from spending time in the outdoors. You might enjoy this article about why going green could boost your long-term health. And, here’s two expert’s views on how we can help children’s mental health and happiness levels.