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Park Rx Program Provides Alternative to Medication for Weight Loss



Anne O’Neill is the Outdoor Recreation Planner for the National Capitol division of the Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program (RTCA). The RTCA program is an external program that works with nonprofit programs that conserve greenspace. Anne works with the partnership and youth program office, empowering youth to be leaders on projects and connecting communities to parks through improved access.  

Recently, Anne has been working on the DC Park Rx program with Dr. Robert Zarr in Washington, D.C. This is a Community Health Initiative of health providers, the D.C. Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Park Service, D.C. Departments of Health and Recreation, U.S. Health and Human Services, the National Environmental Education Foundation, George Washington University, and the National Recreation and Parks Association, the goal of which is helping doctors “prescribe nature” to patients and families.  Through this prescription, they encourage patients and families to spend outside time in one of the 350 green spaces and parks that have been through a rating process.

According to Anne, “It’s a very exciting program to be on because I can see that it’s working. Initially this was with children, but now the program has expanded to adults as well. The potential impact that the expansion of DC Park Rx to combat obesity and have healthier communities is exciting.

Anne is working with Dr. Zarr, and is providing technical assistance to the parks. “With the help of volunteers, we have mapped the available parks and green spaces in Washington, D.C., and the amenities that each has,” Anne said. “The idea behind this program is that people tell the doctor what kind of amenities that they want, and their doctor helps them come up with a plan and “prescribes” a park that will meet the requirements that they are looking for. It has been great to connect with people and parks in a new way.” 

Anne said “It is exciting that people are using parks and that it is helping their lives. It is very rewarding to hear that people are going to parks, especially ones that they have never been before and are enjoying it.”

In Washington, D.C., through the efforts of parks staff and volunteers, they have linked the DC Park Rx program with electronic forms and documents about the available parks. According to Anne, they “are trying to make it really easy for doctors to ask the questions they need to, and able to access park info and give a prescription easily. Through this we are helping people reconnect them to parks and hoping to connect them to park stewards and advocates.” Anne’s overall goal is to create a community of health through parks and park access.    

To learn more about the D.C. Park Rx program and partners, visit their website.