Soon, when an overweight South Carolina resident goes to the doctor, he or she might get more than some pills to lower blood pressure and a lecture on healthier eating. The patient might get a prescription for some much-needed exercise.
Prescription for Parks, as the program is known, is yet another experiment in encouraging Americans to be physically active. It’s a collaboration between the Department of Health and Environmental Control and the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. The idea is remarkably simple: Doctors can write a parks prescription for patients that gives free admission to one of South Carolina’s 30 state parks. In addition to hiking, biking and a host of other available physical activities, the parks department has constructed self-guided workout trails that take people through a full exercise routine.
In a state where two-thirds of adults are obese or overweight, and where obesity-related health care costs have been projected to increase from $1.2 billion in 2009 to $5.3 billion by 2018, officials are willing to try anything. They don’t want to force changes—the “nanny state” isn’t too popular in a deeply conservative state like South Carolina—but they hope that a little nudge out the door and an opportunity to spend time in the great outdoors will help improve citizens’ lives.
It’s part of an overall strategy to combat obesity that includes putting healthy food in schools and asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to prohibit food stamp recipients from spending their benefits on junk food, says Catherine Templeton, director of the Department of Health and Environmental Control. “It’s a very comprehensive and holistic attack on what makes people in South Carolina sick and what kills people the most.”