Local doctors prescribe nature to children

TROY — Don’t be surprised if next time you take your child to the doctor, they receive a prescription for outdoor nature play.

Local physicians will soon be prescribing nature to children across Miami County thanks to a collaboration between Dayton Children’s Hospital, Miami County Park District, Miami County Public Health (MCPH) and Upper Valley Medical Center/Premier Health.

“We are always looking for ways to partner with organizations to bring valuable programs to the citizens of Miami County, especially when they make a difference in children’s lives,” said J. Scott Myers, executive director for the Miami County Park District.

The program — Children’s Rx for Nature — is one of the first of its kind in the region and was designed to raise awareness of the importance of outdoor, nature-based activities as a compliment to disease prevention and treatment strategies already in place.

“Certainly, encouraging children to be active, get outside and connect with nature promotes health on all levels — mind, body and spirit. It’s a great reminder for all ages and can be good for the whole family,” said Dr. Scott Kanagy, vice president and chief medical officer for Upper Valley Medical Center. “Children’s Rx for Nature activity is a natural fit with our Premier Health mission of building healthy communities.”

A white paper summarizing health statistics from the CDC and MCPH along with research on outdoor nature play was developed to help present the case for including nature play in the treatment and prevention of illness. According to Dr. Melissa King, program director for the Healthy Me/lipid clinic, at Dayton Children’s Hospital, “At Dayton Children’s we are working to reinvent the path to children’s health. One way to do that is partnering to prevent health issues before they happen. The Children’s Rx for Nature program provides another tool to prevent illness and encourage a healthier lifestyle. As a medical professional, I can only impact about 20 percent of what makes a child healthy. The rest happens outside my office – through a child and family’s behavior, environment and social needs. The Children’s Rx for Nature program is a great way for me to encourage healthy behavior and attitudes in that other 80 percent.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of the biggest health issues facing today’s youth is obesity. It is estimated that 1 in 5 school age children in the United States has obesity. This puts them at risk for becoming obese adults and developing chronic illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and many types of cancer. Mental health is also a growing concern. The CDC reports that ADHD, behavior disorders, anxiety and depression are the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in children and these numbers are on the rise.

As these health problems continue to increase, outdoor activity in a natural environment has been decreasing and has taken a back seat to screen time, demanding schoolwork and busy extracurricular schedule. As children spend less time in a natural environment, they are missing key opportunities for physical activity, stress reduction, attention restoration, and healthy development.

“I don’t think we’ll ever reset the clock to back when kids would just go outside and play for hours,” said Dr. Burkhardt, medical director for Miami County Public Health. “I do think through the prescription program we can communicate the importance of nature play and begin to reverse the decline.”

Miami County Public Health included the Children’s Rx for Nature program as a strategy in the 2018 Miami County Community Health Improvement plan which identified the need to implement a wellness program that incorporated physical activity in daily life in order to improve the physical and mental health of Miami County residents.

“The correlation between chronic disease and lack of exercise is well documented. From a public health perspective, getting kids outside and active helps to achieve the goals of our Community Health Improvement Plan,” said Janel Hodges, epidemiologist for Miami County Public Health.

By the beginning of May, patients will be seeing posters promoting the Children’s Rx for Nature program displayed in the physician’s offices. UVMC will be an important partner in implementing the program. “The ‘prescription pads’ and materials are being made available to our primary care practices and urgent care offices and have been enthusiastically received by our practitioners who understand the correlation between staying active and overall wellness,” said Dr. Kanagy. “When a doctor consults with a patient who could benefit from outdoor nature play, they will be given a prescription, a brochure containing information about the program and a tip card featuring County park locations and activities to do outside.”

“Through this program we hope to see more kids getting outside, being active and reaping the health benefits of outdoor play. Active lifestyles have a wide variety of benefits, including reducing the prevalence of chronic health conditions and relieving stress,” said Dr. King.