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Park prescription (DC Park Rx): A new strategy to combat chronic disease in children

Summary


Park prescription program offers a low-cost intervention that utilizes an already-available resource to promote positive health behaviors

This article describes the development and evaluation of a Park Prescription (DC Park Rx) program for low-income residents in Washington, DC. The goal of the program was to increase the amount of physical activity in children and adolescents who are at risk for chronic illness. DC Park Rx provides pediatric health providers with a user-friendly tool to facilitate park prescriptions for families served in an outpatient clinical setting. A park prescription is a written nonmedical health-related prescription urging patients to spend more time in parks to improve their physical fitness.

A group of community volunteers (physicians, physical therapists, park rangers, and public health and physical therapy students) identified and rated over 300 parks in Washington, DC using a park-rating tool based on two established park auditing tools: Path Environment Audit Tool (PEAT) and the System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC). Items on the tool addressed park cleanliness, accessibility, level of activity, amenities, and safety. A summary for each park was then developed and uploaded to a searchable database.

Participating health-care providers wrote park prescriptions for children and adolescents, as needed. The prescriptions included expectations for intensity, frequency, and duration of outside physical activity. Over a six-month period, park prescriptions were written for 225 families. Along with the prescription, each family was given a park summary handout for particular parks. Surveys were administered to parents immediately before and 3 months after their visit to the health clinic. The purpose of the survey was to assess changes in attitudes and behaviors around physical activity.

Differences in responses from pre- to post-surveys indicated that the DC Park Rx had a positive impact on study participants. The number of days per month spent in a park for 30 or more minutes increased from 7 to 8 days, and the average weekly physical activity increased from 150 to 172 minutes. Additionally, more parents believed that physical activity was important for the health of their child and made physical activity a regular focus for their family. Responses on both the pre- and post-surveys indicated that parents considered the parks to be safe and that they valued parks as places to be physically active and to enjoy nature.

These findings indicate that behaviors and attitudes relating to health and physical activity can change through a park prescription program.

Citation

Zarr, R., Cottrell, L., Merrill, C., (2017). Park prescription (DC Park Rx): A new strategy to combat chronic disease in children. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 14(1), 1-2.

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