A Prescription To Play In The Park
Thirty or forty years ago, pediatricians may not have necessarily thought to advise their patients get more exercise. Part of that is because the rate of childhood obesity isn’t what it is today and another part is that more kids went outside to play with more frequency than they do today. As society and they way we choose to live has changed, children’s play has changed, too, and not for the better in terms of health. We often talk about how to beat childhood obesity, but here’s a pediatrician actually doing something about it.
About 40 percent of Dr. Robert Zarr’s young patients are overweight or obese. This led him to come up with ways to give specific recommendations for exercise. He listens to his patients, finding out what they like to do and what they’re willing and able to do. He doesn’t stop at listening and simply saying, “Get more exercise.” He created a database that maps out all the parks in Washington, D.C.—380 so far. With help from the National Park Service and volunteers from George Washington University’s School of Public Heath, park rangers, and other doctors, Zarr mapped and rated facilities in a database that is searchable by zip code. It can be linked to patients’ electronic medical records.
Zarr actually writes his prescriptions on a special pad and there is an area that asks, “When and where will you play outside this week?” He prescribed for one of his 13-year-old patients—who commutes to and from school by bus and train—that she “walk the remaining four blocks on the second bus on your route to school from home, every day.” Not only did the patient get to school 10 minutes earlier, she has also gone from obese to just overweight.
I love what Zarr is doing. For one thing, he is being proactive by helping his patients in a way that is both practical and useful. He’s putting his money where his mouth by mapping out all of the parks in Washington, D.C.—an undertaking that even with physical and financial help, was probably time-consuming and costly.
What Zarr is doing is what medicine should be about. Certainly I’m no medical expert, but it seems logical that medical professionals provide context to their recommendations. Specific and personalized information is always more helpful than general blanket statements that everybody knows.
Hopefully, the other park prescription projects that are getting started around the country can gain some traction so that parks and other green spaces will one day be considered an essential part of communities. Zarr makes an important point that the more parks are used, the safer and better they become.
What do think of doctors handing out prescriptions for exercise? Share your thoughts below.