Writing Prescriptions to Play Outdoors

On the other hand, Mr. Louv said, “I don’t dismiss parents who feel that fear; I felt it too.” Parents today are probably going to be accompanying their children more and hovering a little closer, but they shouldn’t feel the need to be all-knowing experts. “In a way, parents who don’t know the names of all the plants and animals are better off,” he said, because they are learning with their children, and can feel the same sense of wonder.

And of course, as a pediatrician, I need to add certain safety reminders: tick protection, sun protection, helmets when you bicycle or ride your scooter.

“Clearly there are going to be risks, but the risks of not going outdoors and continuing the pattern of 90 percent indoors is going to kill us,” said Captain Sarah Newman, the director of the office of public health for the National Park Service. Public health has been an aspect of the park service since it first started, she said, with parks seen as places for respite from cities and pollution, places to connect with nature and get healthy exercise.

In 1918, she said, the park service had one public health service officer, but there are now 54, mostly working to protect park visitors and employees from disease risks. Their work also includes health promotion in an initiative called Healthy Parks Healthy People. The initiative especially targets both children and the elderly, she said, along with the most vulnerable communities, and also the military.

“I’d like to say to parents that we have probably the most cost effective and accessible opportunity to keep your kids healthy and maintain a healthy lifestyle,” Captain Newman said. “It could be the best thing you do for your kids.” She cited the dangers of extensive screen time for children, along with childhood obesity. “Take advantage of the many parks you have that are accessible — look it up, find your nearest, hike, go every single weekend, instill it in your kids.”

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