Just What the Doctor Ordered: Using Parks to Improve Children’s Health

NIH
October 2015

For children today, time spent outdoors is becoming more of a luxury—or in some cases, a chore—than a staple. In recent years “nature deficit disorder” among kids has evolved from a turn of phrase1 to a cultural indictment.2,3 Smartphones and other screens are increasingly vying for kids’ attention,4 but blame lies elsewhere, too: just as recess is being reduced or phased out in many schools, children’s activities are being increasingly structured and scheduled, and concerns over neighborhood crime and safety can impede their ability to play freely outdoors.5 A 2013 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly three-quarters of high-school students had less than one hour of physical activity per day,6 while childhood obesity rates are trending steadily upward.7

Almost at the same time, researchers have dramatically expanded their understanding of the positive link between health and parks of all sorts—from the most majestic national parks to regional community parks and urban “pocket parks” with just a swing set or a few benches. They have also begun to disentangle some of the many pathways through which these benefits appear to occur.8,9,10,11,12,13 That knowledge is giving rise to a nationwide movement to integrate park visits into disease treatment and prevention through “park prescription” programs.14

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