How NaturePHL is prescribing kids (and adults) to get outside

Collaborative program aims to lower childhood obesity rates, stress and more with time outdoors.

(M. Fischetti for Visit /  VISIT PHILADELPHIA)

(M. Fischetti for Visit / VISIT PHILADELPHIA)

This story originally appeared on Green Philly.

With July in full swing, it’s the perfect time to soak up the sun and get fresh air. However, kids are spending less time outside and spending more time on their screens instead. Plus, Philadelphia is the highest-ranked city in childhood obesity.

Citywide childhood obesity rates are 20%, and almost as high as 65% in some neighborhoods.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

NaturePHL aims to fix that problem.

In addition to getting “fresh air” and moving, research is increasingly showing the numerous benefits of being outside, including stress reduction, increased focus, maintaining a healthy weight, and children or adults with ADHD.

The collaborative effort between the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, CHOP, the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department, and the National Forest Service is a part of the nature prescription movement, formally called NatureRX.

The program provides resources to Philadelphians to find spots around the city to get outdoor time. NaturePHL’s website lists over 100 parks and green spaces throughout the Philadelphia area on an interactive map searchable through zip code.

Users can filter their searches for park amenities, public transportation, wheelchair accessibility, sports facilities, and more. There are also events including many free physical activities.

NaturePHL’s beginnings in the Healthcare system

There are many factors that make the Philadelphia program unique. Philly has one of the largest and most reputable children’s hospitals in the nation which is why Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is a partner.

NaturePHL was initially being piloted at CHOP Primary Care in Cobbs Creek and Roxborough.

One of the biggest parts of our program is this clinical side.”

Elisa Sarantschin, Program Coordinator for NaturePHL.

Through the CHOP partnership, patients aged 5-12 would be targetted during annual well-child visits. Patients would be screened through a questionnaire that would assess whether they are low-risk or high-risk.

“We chose that age group to target universally because we wanted this to be something that they’re doing with their families,” said Barbara Rolnick, MD at CHOP Roxborough.

Overcoming hurdles to exploring Philly’s green spaces

Philly also has a lot of green space that citizens may not be conscious of. Aside from the expanse of Fairmount Park, there are many individual green spaces scattered around the city.

Being in an urban environment is another key factor. Pollution is a major issue and being in an urban environment is why people may not think Philly has a lot of green spaces to begin with.

The lack of outdoor time may not always stem from disinterest.

Numerous obstacles can get in the way of outdoor time such as parents not having time with their work schedule, not knowing where to go, not knowing the benefits, knowing the benefits but not having the motivation, and safety concerns.

“Some spaces aren’t seen as safe for a specific neighborhood or community,” Sarantschin said. “One of our biggest challenges is actually talking about safety.”

Feedback on the program has been fairly positive.

“Some families really enjoyed it and found new parks because of the program,” Rolnick said. “I’ve definitely had families that have gone to some of the event listings and discovered some new parks.”

Green Philly is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on economic mobility. Read more at or follow at @BrokeInPhilly

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal