Doctors prescribing exercise outdoors would help tackle obesity, council chiefs say.
The Local Government Association (LGA) has urged the Government to introduce ‘green prescriptions’ - note from the GP advising exercise.
The scheme has been running in New Zealand since 1998 and surveys there revealed 72% of respondents noticed positive changes to their health and more than half (51%) felt stronger and fitter.
The prescriptions issued in New Zealand are lists of physical activity goals that overweight and obese people can aim for. They are sent to a third person who provides encouragement and support to the patient. Progress is reported back to the GP.
Research published in the British Medical Journal found that a green prescription can improve a patient’s quality of life over 12 months and help people live longer, healthier lives.
Some councils in the UK are already trialling green prescriptions. Dartmoor and Exmoor National Park Authorities are piloting a three-year scheme where GPs are encouraging patients to visit the national parks as part of their treatment or as an alternative to medication.
Liverpool City Council and Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group are also delivering a £2.9m Liverpool Active City Strategy which includes GP referral schemes and activities in parks.
‘Not every visit to a GP is necessarily a medical one. By writing formal prescriptions for exercise, it would encourage people to do more physical activity,’ the LGA’s community wellbeing portfolio holder, Cllr Izzi Seccombe, said.
‘The green prescription model is something that could help to tackle major health conditions such as obesity and diabetes. There are already some good examples where this is being piloted in the UK, and it is something we should consider on a nationwide basis.’
Steven Ward, ukactive executive director, said: ‘Britain is in the grip of a cradle to grave physical inactivity crisis and the great outdoors is a fantastic gateway for getting people moving again.
‘Physical activity has been hailed as a miracle cure which can help to treat and prevent more than 20 lifestyle-related diseases and if GPs were to prescribe this it would bring huge benefits to people’s physical and mental health.’
The Parks Alliance (TPA) has previously called on the Government to commission clinical trials into how ‘green prescriptions’ can help improve public health.