Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Nature prescriptions help kids and families get outdoors for better health

Today’s National Public Health Week guest blog is by Leyla Erk McCurdy, senior director, health and environment, at the National Environmental Education Foundation.

Physical inactivity and sedentary lifestyle have contributed greatly to many health problems affecting children as well as adults today. Chronic conditions such as childhood obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, attention-deficit disorder and vitamin D deficiency have all increased in recent decades.

U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin recognized the National Environmental Education Foundation’s Children and Nature Initiative for its role in getting children active outdoors. Here, she’s pictured with members of the foundation’s staff and board at Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C., a nature site for the initiative.
Being outside and active has sometimes taken a back seat to television, video games, the computer, and a demanding schoolwork and extracurricular schedule. On the other hand, research shows that these chronic conditions can be prevented or improved by spending more time outdoors. 
Adam Benzing, from Howard University’s Medical Reserve Corps, talks to youth about nature and their health at Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C.

The National Environmental Education Foundation’s Children and Nature Initiative is working with health care providers to educate families on the benefits of staying active and connecting with nature. The initiative trains health care providers to become nature champions and gives them the technical support, tools and resources they need to be effective in prescribing outdoor activity in their communities. The foundation also connects them with a particular forest, park, wildlife refuge, nature center or other public land near their neighborhood in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Audubon Society.

James R. Roberts, a pediatrician at Medical University of South Carolina and chair of the Children & Nature Initiative Advisory Committee, said the initiative is vital because “with competing priorities and numerous entertainment options available to kids today, they are spending less time outside. A nature prescription gives kids something to take home and reminds them to turn off their electronic gadgets and get outdoors to play when they can.”

Dr. Robert Zarr, a nature champion of the Children and Nature Initiative, and Unity Health Care’s We Can! participants explore the trails at Rock Creek Park.

You can learn more about the Children and Nature Initiative by visiting neefusa.org/health.

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