MGH Stresses Getting Families to go Outside

One of the oldest outdoors clubs in American and one of the newest programs from Mass General Hospital (MGH) are teaming up to fight a growing problem – the sedentary lifestyles of local young people, which often gives way to childhood obesity.

MGH’s Revere and Chelsea Clinics and the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) are working together on a new program in Revere and Chelsea where local pediatricians actually write prescriptions for certain young people and their families to go outdoors. Then, the AMC provides just the right opportunities to help the young people and their families to be active outside.

“Everybody goes to the doctor and there are more and more health issues we’ve had to deal with that used to be adult problems only and now are problems in children,” said Pam Hess of the AMC. “The main focus here is getting kids and families outside and exercising. This is an easy and free way to promote better health. Once families start coming, they want to come back. They all feel good and see quite a change in behavior and attitudes. Then there’s the ‘we can do this’ attitude about getting out on their own more often.”

The AMC has been in existence for a little over 100 years, and the program with MGC just started in Chelsea and Revere one month ago. The way it works is a pediatrician will identify a patient whom he/she believes needs to be more active. The doctor will actually write a prescription for the outdoors (the program is dubbed OutdoorRx). That prescription will provide information for the AMC, which will be holding several outdoor events in Revere and Chelsea for those children and their families who have the prescription.

One of the doctors is Dr. Wanda Gonzalez of the Chelsea MGC.

“The prescription is pretty strong,” she said. “It’s fort of like I’m giving you a treatment. It really validates the program and shows that, as a doctor, I so strongly believe in the children and the importance of getting outdoors that I’m willing to sign my name to it.”

Naturally, the program is targeted at childhood obesity, but also carries over to other issues – such as not having a place to play outdoors.

“A lot of this is about childhood obesity and we particularly see that here in Chelsea and Revere,” said Dr. Gonzalez. “That is one of the main reasons we developed this program. It’s not the only reason though. Lack of outdoor activities has been linked to other conditions such as anxiety, depression, asthma and others. There is an overall lack of activity outdoors and we need to get kids playing outside again.”

Already, there have been a few of the organized outdoor adventures for families, and they have gone pretty well, said local AMC Coordinator Rachel Milito.

Milito said just because it’s getting cold outside doesn’t mean the outdoor activities will stop. In fact, she said one of the goals of the program is to teach local families how to continue exercising outdoors despite the inclement weather.

“We do this year round,” she said. “We want to show families you can get out in the warm weather and in the cold weather. If you dress appropriately,  you can be outdoors and active and it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to be property dressed. Playing in the snow is good exercise and we’ll be doing that this winter with our families, just as we went hiking in the warmer months.”

The program was piloted in Waltham and Framingham for one year, and due to the success, it was expanded to Revere, Chelsea, Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan. For the guided programs, there are 10 different locations in Chelsea and Revere that will serve as places to be active.

The OutdoorRx only will be prescribed to children 12 and under.

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