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Children and Nature Initiative Aims to Reduce Youth Obesity, Disease

Using a train-the-trainer program that enlists healthcare providers to train their colleagues, the National Environmental Education Foundation recently launched an initiative designed to help pediatric healthcare professionals improve children’s health by “prescribing” outdoor activity.

The Children and Nature Initiative, which kicked off at the Prospect Park Zoo and Audubon Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., is training healthcare workers to be “nature champions,” who will, in turn, train other providers to refer families to parks, nature centers or wildlife refuges within economically, racially and culturally diverse communities. The initiative is based on NEEF’s research article “Using Nature and Outdoor Activity to Improve Children’s Health,” which was published in the May 2010 issue of Current Problems of Pediatric and Adolescent Health Care.

“This program addresses two important issues — preventing serious health conditions like obesity and diabetes and reconnecting children to nature,” said Leyla McCurdy, senior director of NEEF’s Health Environment program, in a news release. “Unstructured outdoor activity may improve children’s health by increasing physical activity, reducing stress and serving as a support mechanism for attention disorders. By giving healthcare providers this training, and by connecting them to local nature sites to refer families to safe and accessible outdoor areas, we are working together with parents to encourage children to spend more time outdoors to protect their health.”

Online resources include a fact sheet, pediatric environmental history forms and prescription pads in English and Spanish, and are available at

Maura Porricolo, RN, was one of four nurse practitioners to be trained as a nature champion.

Maura Porricolo, RN, DrNP(c), a pediatric NP at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, was one of four NP trainees at the Brooklyn site. “The connection between children’s health and the outdoors sparked my interest,” she said. “I saw the nature champion role as a marriage between passions I’ve treasured throughout life — health and being outdoors.”

The nurses were asked to remember their own childhoods and the outdoor activities in which they participated. “This highlighted the contradiction in today’s children who are bombarded by a digital world,” Porricolo said.

The 40 healthcare professionals already trained as champions will train 30 other providers, each within two years. Porricolo will focus her training in the New York area and says she is excited to get started, noting that local National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners chapters and her coworkers will be her first contacts. “I’ve been looking for an initiative to foster health in children at non-traditional healthcare settings,” she said. “I think I found a new project.”

By | 2020-04-15T14:26:35-04:00 July 26th, 2010|Categories: New York/New Jersey Metro, Regional|0 Comments

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