Parks Prescription: Uniting Public Lands with Public Health

July 9, 2015 by A Parks Pal

Which would you prefer: a day out in the parks, or a day in your doctor’s office?

Just like most adults would rather not spend their weekend in an exam room, kids would also rather be playing, especially outdoors. Turns out, encouraging them to spend time outside may keep them out of the doctor's office after all..

This approach to health has spawned “parks prescription” programs in cities around the U.S., successfully getting kids outdoors and physically active. Soon, Pittsburgh will be joining the nationwide effort to combat and prevent childhood obesity through the incredible assets of our parks.

3457097892_f4d7dc1057_zThrough Pittsburgh Parks Prescription, or Pittsburgh Parks Rx, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy is teaming up with the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, Lawrenceville United, Pittsburgh Public Schools (Arsenal PreK - 5, Arsenal Middle and Woolslair), the City of Pittsburgh's Department of Parks and Recreation, and other partners to create a pilot project that we hope will soon be a city-wide effort to tackle childhood obesity and other health challenges.

More than 80% of Americans are physically inactive; nearly one in every three kids in the United States is overweight or obese. Pittsburgh is no fitter. The roots of lifelong obesity are poor diet and excessive time spent in front of screens at a young age; kids are learning to lead inactive and sedentary lifestyles while they're young. Inspiring kids to play in Pittsburgh's many parks could lead them down a healthier path.

The project, currently in its early stages, will encourage children and families to fill prescriptions for parks, given to them through their primary doctor, school, or community center. Community leaders like primary care physicians, school nurses, physical education teachers, and counselors will write kids a prescription to spend time outside, and share with them a host of information and resources to keep it going. Their enrollment in Pittsburgh Parks Rx will come with a passbook filled with nature-oriented activities and maps to the nearest parks, as well as lots of opportunities to connect to the outdoors through school, after-school and community offerings.

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Armed with these resources, kids can fulfill their prescription through fun activities that encourage exercise and time outdoors. Kids and their parents can check back in with their doctor, nurse, or counselor frequently to track progress and advance their prescription. Follow-up visits will also measure weight, BMI, and blood pressure to monitor health improvement.

The pilot Pittsburgh Parks Rx is set to take off in Lawrenceville this fall. We are very excited to encourage Pittsburgh youth to explore the parks and lead healthier lives.

Who would’ve thought a prescription to play today would lead us to a healthier tomorrow?

Maddie Taylor

Kids and Families