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Jenny Eriksen Leary
Office of Communications
Boston – Oct. 8, 2014 – Building on the success of its Outdoors RxT program's pilot year, the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) announced that it is expanding the program to three Boston neighborhoods in collaboration with Boston Medical Center (BMC). The BMC Pediatrics Department just began writing Outdoors Rx prescriptions for regular outdoor physical activity to patients living in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan-with AMC "filling" these prescriptions through free, nature-based Outdoors Rx activities for families several times each week.
Research shows the many physical and cognitive benefits of outdoor play, and BMC is uniquely positioned to reach residents in under-served Boston communities at greatest risk of childhood obesity and other health issues associated with more sedentary lifestyles.
"BMC's partnership with organizations such as the Appalachian Mountain Club, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and the City of Boston has afforded us the ability to offer our patients unique - and fun - ways to stay active and healthy," said Seeta Badrinath, MD, MPH, a primary care pediatrician and Outdoors Rx medical champion at BMC and instructor at Boston University School of Medicine. "Outdoors Rx is a great example of families, physicians and community organizations coming together and creating innovative ways to help patients and their families develop healthy habits and behaviors that can improve health outcomes."
Working closely with Boston's world-renowned healthcare community, AMC created Outdoors Rx as a hands-on program for families that combines the recommendation of a trusted healthcare provider with AMC's outdoor expertise. Outdoors Rx takes a unique approach to "filling" this type of prescription by regularly offering free, close-to-home guided programs that are often the first step for many families who are new to the outdoors and not confident visiting a local park on their own.
BMC's volunteer-run bWell Center, which offers pediatric patients, parents, and guardians free health education, brings an even greater level of assistance to participants getting started with Outdoors Rx that is expected to further increase patient follow-through. Immediately after a patient receives the prescription, bWell volunteers are available in-person to help families register on the Outdoors Rx website at www.outdoorsrx.org. The site highlights upcoming AMC-led outdoor programs, and also lets families track how many minutes their child spends getting active each day to earn rewards for fun outdoor gear and trips. Within a couple of weeks, AMC directly reaches out to everyone who receives a prescription with added encouragement to participate.
To kick off the expanded program, AMC and BMC have jointly trained more than 50 pediatric healthcare providers on the value and benefits of prescribing the outdoors for their patients who are 13 years old and younger. AMC's goal for the first year is to reach 2,000 families who participate in at least one guided program, either through a prescription or as a resident of Dorchester, Roxbury, or Mattapan.
"The Appalachian Mountain Club has shown an outstanding commitment to a healthier Boston," said Mayor Martin J. Walsh. "Not only does this opportunity provide parents and their children with a fun-filled way to exercise and experience nature first-hand, but also it continues our efforts to eliminate health disparities by improving residents' access to much needed health and preventative services throughout our Boston neighborhoods."
AMC teamed up with MassGeneral Hospital for Children in September 2013 to launch Outdoors Rx in Framingham and Waltham, Massachusetts, where the program continues. The program's early success in these two communities surpassed expectations with more than 3,000 children and families who participated in hundreds of guided activities. The program trained 75 healthcare providers to write Outdoors Rx prescriptions, as well as 25 volunteers to lead guided activities.
Outdoors Rx programs will be offered in at least 15 different locations, including the City of Boston's Rockledge Urban Wild in Roxbury, Savin Hill Park in Dorchester, and Almont Park in Mattapan. Short, easy activities will range from "micro-hikes with tykes" to scavenger hunts and outdoor play parties. Program hand-outs highlighting on-your-own outings in these Boston neighborhoods will be available in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole.
"We're incredibly honored to work alongside BMC's medical professionals and volunteers to introduce Boston's neighborhood parks to the families they care for," said Pam Hess, Outdoors Rx program director and director of youth engagement for AMC. "In many ways, Outdoors Rx is a natural extension of our commitment to serving the City's youth through our long-standing Youth Opportunities Program for teens."
Funding for expansion of Outdoors Rx to Boston is generously provided in large part through a challenge grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, which was matched by a Boston Medical Center grant from the Yawkey Foundation.
"Advancing the health and well-being of children and families is essential to our mission," said Jeff Bellows, Blue Cross vice president of corporate citizenship. "The collaboration with the Appalachian Mountain Club and Boston Medical Center is an extension of our efforts to explore the unique human health benefits of being in nature. We are confident that Outdoors Rx will improve lives through connecting citizens to Boston's exceptional parks and green spaces."