Physical fitness is just what the doctor ordered for kids in Annapolis, thanks to an innovative program backed by local pediatricians. A local health collaborative that includes the parks and recreation department and the public health department worked closely with two area medical groups to launch a program which involves prescriptions for physical activity through summer sports camps that can be filled free of charge or at a steep discount.
To get started, the department researched physical activity prescriptions online and found a group that had started a similar program in San Diego. Eager to not ‘reinvent the wheel’, the Annapolis team made some phone calls to learn more about the prescription program in San Diego. And what they learned helped inform their local team.
Pediatricians are at the front line of identifying obesity in children. Through conversations with physicians, the Annapolis health collaborative learned that while pediatricians were able to identify obesity in children, they were unsure how to address it. Information gathering was the first step: the pediatricians were given a list of resources to which they can refer parents and children. This included a map of parks, and a list of free and low-cost recreational activities for children.
The program relies on a ‘prescription model’, familiar and clear to both patients and physicians, in which children are prescribed physical activity at the local park to reduce their weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Prescription pads were created for physicians to use to provide detailed instructions to parents. These prescriptions listed activities, classes, and a help line where staff is prepared to help them through the registration process step by step. The Annapolis Recreation and Parks Department partnered with the Anne Arundel County Department of Recreation and Parks to provide children with more physical activity prescription options.
One physician’s office was so enthusiastic about the project that they volunteered to review patient records and contact families proactively rather than wait for annual physical exams. This approach is a remarkable coup for the Annapolis collaborative.
The Recreation and Parks Department also started a scholarship program to help families pay for the recreational activities for their children. Some key recommendations for other park and recreation departments looking to create a park prescription program include:
- Engage your physicians and describe to them the intent of the program and the role that they play;
- Make information readily available to physicians and to families once they call for help finding or registering for activities;
- Follow up with physicians regularly to ‘check in’ and answer any questions; and
- Think about the timing of rolling out the program. Begin planning in the spring as there are more recreation activities available in the summer.
The Annapolis collaborative hopes to build on this initial momentum to become a more visible and active part of local efforts to reduce obesity. They have applied for a grant with the Mayor’s office which will both provide funds and publicity for the group.