Preventing Pediatric Obesity: Park Prescriptions Rule!


SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Now more than ever, we need an antidote for the stress, anxiety, and chronic illness in our lives. It’s even more critical when these issues occur in seemingly healthy children. That’s what led doctors at a San Francisco Bay area hospital to prescribe a new kind of medication. This one involved sunshine and fresh air.

Kevin Barazza has his passing game down to a science. You could never tell that sports is still a new world to him.

“Before I discovered soccer, I was eating junk food and playing a lot of video games. I wasn’t playing outside that much,” shared Barazza.

Barazza is not the only one. A recent study reveals that kids are taking part in 15 percent fewer outdoor activities than they did just six years ago. That has doctors concerned.

Laurie Bostick Cammon, MD, the Pediatric Director at Santa Clara County Park Prescription says, “A lot of the kids who come to my practice already have abnormal labs, already have high cholesterol, or pre-diabetes.”

Those conditions are all the hallmark of a sedentary lifestyle. But the doctor’s solution doesn’t involve patients stepping on a scale.

“We don’t want to focus on weight. We want to focus on lifestyle, and we want to focus on helping your child be healthier,” shared Dr. Cammon.

The result is a new kind of prescription for patients and families.

“What we do is we give our patients a prescription, a piece of paper that tells them where to go. They can either come themselves or we give them a parking pass, or we meet up as a group,” continued Dr. Cammon.

That little bit of time outdoors can make a huge difference. More than four hundred studies have been conducted on the benefits of nature. It does everything from reducing stress and pain to lowering diabetes.

“My family’s getting healthier because of the program,” said Barazza.

“Patients tell us that once we went on that walk and we got to nature, we felt like we could take a deep breath and we feel like a weight’s been lifted,” Dr. Cammon explained.

And that makes it all worthwhile.

“I think park prescriptions should be more common than prescribing a pill,” Barazza said.

More cities are implementing their own park prescription programs.  They include: Nature RX at Cornell University, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, and San Luis Valley Health in Colorado. Europe also has a similar program called Social Prescribing.

Contributors to this news report include: Jennifer Winter, Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; and Rusty Reed Videographer.

REPORT #2773

BACKGROUND: Approximately 17 percent of U.S. youth are obese, and nearly one in three children and adolescents are either overweight or obese. No one is immune to the risk of growing up at an unhealthy weight. Researchers estimate 9.4 percent of children ages 2 to 5 are obese. For children ages 6 to 11, the obesity rate has more than quadrupled during the past 40 years – from 4.2 to 17.4 percent – as well as tripled for adolescents ages 12 to 19 according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Childhood obesity happens when a child is above the normal or healthy weight for his or her age and height. Causes of excess weight gain in young people are like those in adults, including behavior and genetics. Obesity is also influenced by a person’s community as it can affect the ability to make healthy choices.

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RISKS AND BEHAVIORS: There are several factors that increase your child’s risk of becoming overweight. Regularly eating high-calorie foods, such as fast foods, baked goods, and vending machine snacks, can cause your child to gain weight. Children who don’t exercise much are more likely to gain weight because they don’t burn as many calories. If there is a family history of overweight people, he or she may be more likely to put on weight. Personal, parental, and family stress can increase a child’s risk of obesity. And, people in some communities have limited resources and limited access to supermarkets, resulting in buying convenience foods that don’t spoil quickly like frozen meals, crackers and cookies. Children who are obese are encouraged to modify their eating habits for gradual weight loss of no more than 1 pound a month. Older adolescents who are severely obese might be encouraged to modify their eating habits to aim for weight loss of up to 2 pounds a week. Small changes can make a big difference like choosing more fruits and vegetables, limiting sweetened beverages and fast food, sitting down for family meals and serving appropriate portion sizes.

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TWO NEW STUDIES: Leptin, a hormone that suppresses appetite, is being studied in hopes of an obesity cure. Researchers have discovered differences in the way the brains of obese people and their normal-weight peers respond to leptin. The brains of obese people become leptin-resistant. Umut Ozcan, MD, and colleagues in Boston Children’s Department of Endocrinology report two existing drugs which can restore the brain’s sensitivity to leptin in obese mice. Researchers are beginning to try to answer the question of how this translates into humans through clinical trials. Then, Joel Hirschhorn, MD, PhD, of Boston Children’s Divisions of Genetics and Endocrinology, analyzed data from about 90,000 people and discovered six new genetic variants linked with body mass index. Most of the variants highlight genes active in the brain, suggesting that differences in appetite regulation may play a role in obesity. This team is now performing larger-scale studies to identify additional genetic variants with the goal of developing an effective treatment for obesity.


* For More Information, Contact:

Patty Porter, Santa Clara Valley Med. Ctr./Public Relations             James Chisum, Media Relations / (408) 885-4006                   / (562) 493-6023


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