NPR Story
1:27 pm
Fri November 8, 2013

A Doctor's Prescription To Play Outside

In an era of childhood obesity, exercise might be one of the best things a doctor could prescribe. So why not do that?

Leaders at one of country’s oldest outdoor organizations — the Appalachian Mountain Club — brought that question to pediatricians at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

The result is prescription plan called Outdoors RX. From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Martha Bebinger of WBUR reports from a pediatrician’s office.

Reporter

Copyright 2014 WBUR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wbur.org.

Transcript

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:

Well, sticking with health news, given that one out of three American kids are overweight or obese, exercise might be one of the best things a doctor can prescribe. So why not give it a try? Leaders at one of the country's oldest outdoor organizations brought that question to pediatricians at one of the country's most venerable hospitals. The result is a prescription plan called Outdoors RX. From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, WBUR's Martha Bebinger begins our story in an examination room where a Boston pediatrician is wrapping up a visit with a young patient.

DR. KAREN SADLER: So Melody, as we finish our check-up today, I have one more thing to tell you...

MARTHA BEBINGER, BYLINE: Dr. Karen Sadler pulls a stool up to the examination table where 8-year-old Melody Salhudin sits, her legs dangling over the edge.

SADLER: And, you know, you come here when you're sick, but you also come to the pediatrician so we can help you stay healthy. And part of staying healthy is being active, so this prescription lets you join a special program. It's called OutdoorPrescription.org.

BEBINGER: Outdoors RX is a partnership between the Appalachian Mountain Club, or AMC, and Massachusetts General Hospital. The two organizations are testing the idea of having doctors write prescriptions for outdoor exercise in two Boston suburbs that have high rates of childhood obesity. Melody, a quick study, gets the point.

MELODY SALHUDIN: To help people stay strong and healthy and to make sure they get up and get their body, like, grooving and moving,

BEBINGER: The Appalachian Mountain Club isn't known for moving and grooving.

PAM HESS: Originally we thought of hiking or biking.

BEBINGER: And other more traditional AMC activities, says Pam Hess, who runs Outdoors RX. But Hess soon realized that many kids in these communities are not used to, or even comfortable, spending time outdoors. So when Melody and other patients go to the program's website, they can sign up for nature storytelling, arts and crafts in a park.

HESS: Family games. This is a year-round program. So there'll be winter activities, whether it's winter tracking, or summertime we'll be getting down and doing micro-hikes so you don't need a lot of space to do it.

BEBINGER: Micro-hikes? AMC, the rugged mountaineering conservation group, is promoting something called micro-hikes?

HESS: That's pretty much looking down at your feet, so even an area as small as inside of a hula hoop. You can look for different colors, different shapes, different sizes of things, and you can discover a whole new world using your imagination.

BEBINGER: If that's what it takes to get kids outdoors, Hess says, AMC will do it. Dr. Sadler says she jumped at the chance to participate, after years of talking to patients about staying healthy and feeling like the message never made it home.

SADLER: If a prescription takes a set of words and makes it more concrete, then I think the weight of this message is every bit as important as the Amoxicillin you write for their ear infection.

BEBINGER: It's too early to tell what percentage of kids will fill their get outdoors prescription.

MARY SALHUDIN: Work your legs out, baby, we've got to walk.

BEBINGER: Melody's mother, Mary Salhudin, her dad, a sister and a nephew turned on to a paved path that loops around a park in Framingham, Massachusetts. It's an AMC event that fills Melody's prescription.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Eli, come down. Come down, Eli.

BEBINGER: Melody's sister chases a nephew up a hill covered in fall leaves. This was part of Dr. Sadler's grand plan: to use Melody to get the whole family out and moving. It worked.

IBN SALHUDIN: That's right. Got me out walking, because I just - I wouldn't be out here.

BEBINGER: That's Ibn Salhudin, Melody's dad. He had a heart attack two years ago and is supposed to walk 15 minutes a day. This three-quarter-mile loop is more exercise than anyone in the family, except maybe Melody, has had in a long time.

MELODY SALHUDIN: Can I run 20 times? Running around and around and around and around...

IBN SALHUDIN: We know you can.

BEBINGER: Mary Salhudin has to calm her daughter down as the walk ends.

IBN SALHUDIN: Who are we going to call Monday?

MELODY SALHUDIN: Dr. Sadler.

IBN SALHUDIN: And tell her what?

MELODY SALHUDIN: That we did the walk.

BEBINGER: And what will Dr. Sadler say?

MELODY SALHUDIN: Good job. I'm proud of you. It will make me feel happy and proud of myself.

BEBINGER: The way many of us often feel when we get out and move. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Martha Bebinger in Boston.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHAKRABARTI: All right. Well, Jeremy, after that, I feel like going out on a hike. What about you?

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

I always feel like going out on a hike. One of my favorite things to do when I was living in L.A. would be to hike up into the hills. And if we could put some bigger hills around Boston, maybe I can...

(LAUGHTER)

HOBSON: ...do that here too.

CHAKRABARTI: I'm sure we can take care of that.

HOBSON: From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.

CHAKRABARTI: I'm Meghna Chakrabarti. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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