As a pediatrician, I see literally thousands of kids and their families at my community health center in Washington, DC. Around forty percent of my patients between the ages 2-20 are either overweight or obese. In addition to being overweight/obese, many suffer from co-morbid conditions like hypertension, diabetes, sleep apnea, low self-esteem, and many more. The list of health problems that go hand in hand with being overweight/obese is daunting.
So what do we DO about it? Sit back and wish this modern day epidemic would go away? Well, “sitting” is not the answer. On the contrary, “moving” is a large part of the correct answer. However, with ever increasing form of sedentary entertainment, Americans are spending more time inside rather outside the built environment.
So you might think that as a doctor all I have to do is recommend more activity, right? Wrong. What my colleagues and I are beginning to realize is that it takes a more targeted approach. In many cities across the country, doctors are prescribing outside time in one of our country’s most treasured resources, parks. Where I live and practice in Washington, DC, we have nearly finished rating our region’s parks. We will be launching a tool any doc can use in his/her office to locate quality and safe outside space near his/her patient’s home. With the click of a mouse, docs can identify not only where that outside space is and how to get there, but all the activities it has to offer, as well as accessibility for people with disabilities. The doc can then share that information with his/her patient at the time of the visit, and schedule follow up to monitor the progress of prescribing nature. My goal is to give docs something easy to recommend that is specific and appropriate for their patient, as well as practical for patients to accomplish. It’s time to move away from merely recommending “diet and exercise.” It’s time to work with our communities and nation’s natural resources to get Americans to move more outside.
Robert Zarr, MD, MPH, FAAP
President, American Academy of Pediatrics DC Chapter
Robert Zarr and son at The North Face Explore Your Parks Washington DC event.