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Can A Doc Prescribe Play for Weight Loss?

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Jenni from the block/FlickR

Faced with a serious problem with overweight children two unusual partners are literally trying a new prescription in the North Country – and they don’t see any reason it couldn’t work statewide.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.


South of children playing….

That’s a sound healthcare professionals would like to hear more often: Kids outdoors running and jumping and generally goofing around.

 Just like the good old days before the sedentary seduction of video games and television.

Lancaster pediatrician Traci Wagner says such playtime calorie burning is needed statewide, but particularly in Coos.

“We know in this country that obesity and overweight is becoming an epidemic and specifically in our area it is very prevalent.”

Wagner says a 2010 study by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services points to the seriousness of the problems for the North Country.

“So, 41 and a half percent of our third graders are overweight or obese. In the state it is 33.4.”

Wagner is working with the North Country Health Consortium and the Appalachian Mountain Club. They’re trying an unusual tactic to see if they can get kids to be more physically active.

The plan is to get doctors and nurses and physician's assistants not just to recommend children exercise more but to literally write a prescription to spend a specified amount of time outside playing.

It has been tried on a small scale in a study in Sweden and a study in Spain and the results seem promising.

Andrea Muller is an official with the Appalachian Mountain Club where her focus is showing kids how much fun can be had outdoors.

She acknowledges the idea of writing a prescription to play outdoors suggests a serious problem.

“There is a measure of desperation involved.”

Muller says the idea is that a written prescription coming from a respected professional carries more weight than a chat.

 “We think it will increase the chance they will act on that advice as opposed to just getting that as part of a discussion that they do when they come in for a visit.

Shana Bertin, a physician’s assistant in Berlin, says the idea has merit.

 “I think it is a great idea. I think people take prescriptions seriously. There is something very concrete and tangible.”

AMC’s Muller says the plan is to meet with North Country healthcare officials throughout the summer to discuss the idea.

For NHPR News this is Chris Jensen