Philly doctors are now prescribing park visits to city kids

In a darkened room at CHOP Primary Care, Cobbs Creek, physician Chris Renjilian set up a projector and debriefed doctors, nurses, and other staff on a new intervention that the office will begin offering to patients in its care.The medical breakthrough in question? Prescription-strength outdoor play

“As primary-care pediatricians, one of our goals is to help children get more active. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 60 minutes a day of outside play,” he said. “This is something we already spend a lot of time screening for and talking to families about.”

Now, they’ll actually be able to prescribe it, in the form of customized, detailed action plans that are tailored to connect kids with Philadelphia’s park system at a time when children are spending far less time in nature than doctors say is needed for healthy development of motor skills, social competence, problem-solving abilities, and even eyesight. It’s an antidote to the plague psychologist Richard Louv described as nature-deficit disorder.

The initiative, called NaturePHL, is a collaboration between CHOP, the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Department, and the National Forest Service.

Launching in August in the form of a pilot program at CHOP’s primary-care offices in Cobbs Creek and Roxborough, NaturePHL will be a standard part of all check-ups for kids age 5 to 12, integrated right into their electronic medical records.

Every patient will be screened, given a brief message about the importance of outdoor play, and referred to a new website, NaturePHL.org, that provides a guide to local parks. Some — perhaps those struggling with obesity or attention-deficit disorder — will get more comprehensive counseling; a detailed park prescription for an outdoor activity such as a hike, a scavenger hunt, or a visit to a playground; and a referral to a “nature navigator.” That’s a community health worker who will help create a detailed plan, figure out how to overcome barriers to getting outside, or even join the patient on a park visit.

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CLEM MURRAY / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Brianna Patrick, environmental education supervisor at the Heinz Wildlife Refuge in Tinicum, PA leads a group of young campers on a nature walk.

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jean
jean

I think this is one of the best ideas I have heard in a long time! Let's create a movement!

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