Why doctors are increasingly prescribing nature

Why doctors are increasingly prescribing nature


JUDY WOODRUFF: As rates of chronic diseases
among children have skyrocketed in the past few decades, pediatricians have increasingly
looked for solutions beyond the traditional. Sometimes, that means prescribing time outdoors. Special correspondent Cat Wise has our story
from Oakland, California. It’s part of our regular series on the Leading
Edge of science and health. CAT WISE: Tina Igbinakenzua wishes Saturday
mornings didn’t look like this, with her 6-year-old Alex cooped up inside playing video games,
playing, 7-year-old Lisa glued to the television. TINA IGBINAKENZUA, Oakland: OK, guys. Breakfast is set. CAT WISE: And Tina herself frantic with chores. But even when she manages to drag the whole
crew out into downtown Oakland for some fresh air, it’s not what you would call rest and
relaxation. TINA IGBINAKENZUA: Alex, watch where you’re
going. Watch where you’re going. Stop moving the tablet. CAT WISE: The stress can be too much. TINA IGBINAKENZUA: Every day, being a mother,
you have to wake up, take them to school, go to work, get back home, get dinner for
them, get them really read for school the next day. It’s really challenging, for real. DR. NOOSHIN RAZANI, UCSF Benioff Children Hospital:
What are the barriers to getting outside and being in nature? Alex, can you turn it off for a second? CAT WISE: That’s why primary care doctor Nooshin
Razani has written this entire family an unconventional prescription for the great outdoors. DR. NOOSHIN RAZANI: And we made a goal. And I think our goal was to walk around Lake
Merritt three times a week. How did it go? CAT WISE: At this clinic run by UCSF Benioff
Children’s Hospital in Oakland, Razani and her colleagues check on time spent outside
nearly as much as they check their patients’ pulse, weight and blood pressure. DR. NOOSHIN RAZANI: Do you think we could bump
that up to getting outside every day? WOMAN: Maybe, yes. DR. NOOSHIN RAZANI: Yes. CAT WISE: Their goal is to write outdoor prescriptions
as often as they prescribe pills and to keep the dosage high. Depression, anxiety, and obesity rates in
America have spiked in recent years, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
now estimating that nearly one in five children is obese. DR. NOOSHIN RAZANI: We see so many things that
we don’t have tools for. And family stress right now is something that
it’s — all those chronic illnesses happening in pediatrics. I mean, I didn’t go into pediatrics to deal
with like high blood pressure and issues that I deal with all the time now, or anxiety or
depression. And so I think that nature and this idea of
park prescriptions is empowering to me. Come in a circle. CAT WISE: On this day, Dr. Razani was taking
about a dozen of the low-income families she sees, all with serious inner-city barriers
to getting outside, directly to one of the East Bay regional parks, which is actually
partnering with the program. DR. NOOSHIN RAZANI: You have a beautiful world. CAT WISE: The families meet on the first Saturday
of the month for what’s known as the SHINE program. They pile into a big yellow school bus
and head out along the windy roads outside Oakland to Lake Chabot Regional Park. WOMAN: Hello, everyone. Are you guys excited for a campfire tonight? CHILDREN: Yes! CAT WISE: Far from the sounds of downtown
Oakland, they’re encouraged to run wild without worry. WOMAN: When all else fails, just run around. CAT WISE: To think about things both bigger
than themselves and smaller. WOMAN: Look at all these little pathways. From the wood beetles, you think? CAT WISE: It seems pretty common-sense that
getting outdoors would be good for people. But does nature actually help to heal? There’s growing scientific evidence it does. Studies have shown that exposure to nature
can lower rates of everything from anxiety and depression to more surprising things like
preterm labor, asthma and nearsightedness. But why nature is beneficial is not entirely
clear. Some suspect that natural stimuli, the swaying
trees, rushing water and singing birds, might reset our fight or flight response, which
is too often switched into overdrive by the stresses of urban modern life. That rest, in turn, gives the body’s psychological,
digestive and immune systems the break they need to function normally. DR. NOOSHIN RAZANI: If you take an urban adult
into a forest, within 15 minutes, you see improvements in cortisol, blood pressure,
heart rate. But more convincing to me is the fact that
people who live in green areas live longer. CAT WISE: Through the SHINE program, Razani
recently completed one of the first randomized trials on the benefits of park prescriptions
for low-income families. DR. NOOSHIN RAZANI: Every park visit resulted
in improved stress for parents. And every park visit resulted in improved
resilience for a child. But it didn’t matter if they came with us
or they went on their own. CAT WISE: The SHINE program is part of a network
of more than 80 outdoor prescription programs in 34 states being tracked by the Park Prescription
Census, most of which have sprouted in the last decade. NARRATOR: From the people that brought you
getting outside comes prescription-strength nature. CAT WISE: The movement has even inspired spoof
drug ads from the Colorado-based group Nature Rx. NARRATOR: Nature can reduce cynicism, meaninglessness,
anal retentiveness, and murderous rage. PAULA MORENO, Marin City Health & Wellness
Center: Are you feeling sad, depressed, anxious? WOMAN: A little anxious, yes. CAT WISE: The nature of the prescriptions
vary by program, from general encouragement to old-fashioned paper scripts like the ones
written at the Marin City Health & Wellness Center near San Francisco. Why is it important to write this all down
on a piece of paper, a prescription pad, vs. just telling someone, why don’t you get out
into nature more? PAULA MORENO: Yes, that’s a really good question. So I feel like, if I’m writing this prescription,
it’s a form of an agreement between me and the patient. It’s — but it’s more for the patient themselves
to take more accountability for their health. CAT WISE: The idea is gaining traction in
some unlikely quarters. San Francisco’s VA Medical Center prescribes
nature through its Warrior program for veterans who struggle with PTSD and anxiety. WOMAN: If their roots are good and healthy,
they’re going to be holding on to that soil. CAT WISE: Air Force vet Vercinia Vinzant saw
the world as a threat before this program. After 22 years of service and some heavy trauma,
she could barely leave her home. VERCINIA VINZANT, U.S. Air Force Veteran:
I don’t know if people realize how important it is for people like me to be able to learn
how to live in the world again, because trees are forgiving. The grass doesn’t judge you. The grass doesn’t care how squirrelly you
seem to be that day. It doesn’t care. When I first started this, I’m like, oh, come
on, seriously? Going outside is going to help what, really? But, amazingly so, it does help. GREG MOORE, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy:
This pathway is used by about 1.5 million people a year. CAT WISE: Greg Moore of the Golden Gate National
Parks Conservancy helped create a national park prescription network to promote knowledge-sharing
among all these groups. But the idea of using public lands as health
care facilities isn’t a new one, he says, just one in need of a comeback. GREG MOORE: I think that not many people are
aware that, actually, the genesis of the park was a public health genesis. Central Park was developed because people
in New York thought that there were unhealthy living conditions in New York. So, we’re just returning to something we have
known for a long time, and giving it a contemporary lens and motivation. WOMAN: So in the time before time, they say
that coyote was the creator of all great things. CAT WISE: Several of the nation’s largest
insurers have begun supporting this work and reimbursing visits to health care providers
as well. How would you address critics who might say
that this is just a fad? DR. NOOSHIN RAZANI: I think, actually, what we’re
doing is common sense. The problem is that society has shifted so
far away from common sense. I’m hoping that, rather than a fad, that kind
of becomes an accepted standard of living and human right, not only for kids, actually,
for everyone. CAT WISE: A human right to fresh air and a
taste of what’s possible. WOMAN: Delicious? CAT WISE: For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Cat
Wise in Oakland, California.

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