The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) and MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) have joined forces to launch "Outdoors Rx," an innovative new AMC program that gives healthcare professionals the dedicated resources for prescribing regular outdoor physical activity to children. This collaboration combines AMC's expertise in getting children and families outside and active with the medical expertise of MGHfC and the local healthcare practitioner community to combat the sedentary lifestyles of overstressed and overscheduled families, which can lead to childhood obesity, Type 1 diabetes, and asthma.
In preparation for launch, AMC and MGHfC have trained over 60 medical professionals in the two program pilot communities of Framingham and Waltham, Massachusetts, on the benefits and use of the program. The goal of both organizations is to have 5,000 outdoor prescriptions written in the first 12 months of the program. AMC hopes to expand the program in other communities with additional healthcare providers following the pilot year.
Outdoors Rx is the most comprehensive program of its kind for prescribing nature and outdoor activity. It is the first known initiative to "fill" these prescriptions by providing children and families with free, easy ways to get started – from joining local AMC-led outdoor activities to planning their own outings with how-to and where-to advice on the new Outdoors Rx website. Families can also track their progress and earn rewards toward fun outdoor gear and trips.
This collaboration brings together MGHfC the oldest provider of pediatric services in Boston, with AMC, the nation's oldest outdoor recreation and conservation organization. Founded and headquartered in Boston, AMC offers long-standing outdoor programs for families, teens, and school groups.
"In addition to the widely known benefits of physical activity, research studies have found that exposure to natural environments also improves physical and emotional health," said Christina Scirica, MD, MPH, a MassGeneral Hospital for Children pulmonologist and weight expert, and the Outdoors Rx medical director. "Exposure to the outdoors has been found to reduce the risk of high blood pressure, Vitamin D deficiency, depression and anxiety, and may even improve attention."
"We see Outdoors Rx as a key component of AMC's efforts to get 500,000 kids outdoors by the end of 2020," said John Judge, president and CEO of the Appalachian Mountain Club. "With so many proven benefits to getting active outdoors, AMC can help families take the first step in trying out new activities, finding places to explore, and making these outings fun for kids."
With the prescription, parents in the two pilot communities can register online at AMC's Outdoors Rx website, where they will find a calendar of free, AMC-guided local outdoor programs, blogs answering questions on what to do and what to wear, and additional ideas for getting outdoors. Framingham's Cushing Memorial Park, Waltham's Prospect Park, and the nearby Bay Circuit Trail and Greenway are a few of the locations where families can join AMC for outdoor games, story time, and family hikes to explore the natural environment. As extra encouragement to stay active, kids can also track their activity and earn points toward outdoor gear rewards, ranging from water bottles to a free stay at AMC's Ponkapoag Camp in Randolph, MA.
A variety of methods will be used to track the level of each child's activity before and after the program, including surveys and focus groups.
"AMC's collaboration with MassGeneral Hospital for Children is a wonderful example of an initiative that should be replicated throughout the country – to reconnect children and their families to the health benefits of spending time in the natural world, and to fight the pandemic of inactivity," said Richard Louv, co-founder of the Children & Nature Network and bestselling author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.
Informational Outdoors Rx brochures highlighting local outings with a locator map are available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. In addition to primary care pediatric and family practitioners, AMC and MGHfC will be working with nurse practitioners, dieticians, and nutritionists to write prescriptions. Financial support for the initial development of the Outdoors Rx program was provided by the George Macomber Family Foundation and the Highland Street Foundation.
Founded in 1876, the Appalachian Mountain Club is America's oldest conservation and recreation organization. With more than 100,000 members, advocates, and supporters in the Northeast and beyond, the nonprofit AMC promotes the protection, enjoyment, and understanding of the mountains, forests, waters, and trails of the Appalachian region. The AMC supports natural resource conservation while encouraging responsible recreation, based on the philosophy that successful, long-term conservation depends upon first-hand enjoyment of the natural environment.
Massachusetts General Hospital, founded in 1811, is the original and largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. The MGH conducts the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, with an annual research budget of more than $775 million and major research centers in AIDS, cardiovascular research, cancer, computational and integrative biology, cutaneous biology, human genetics, medical imaging, neurodegenerative disorders, regenerative medicine, reproductive biology, systems biology, transplantation biology and photomedicine.