Doctors join in pilot project for developing heathier lifestyles

By Carol Kinsley

Three doctors in western Sussex County have taken the unusual step of telling their young patients to take a hike. They are embarking on a pilot program with prescriptions for walking and other outdoor activities at Delaware State Parks. The idea is to encourage children and their families to get involved in physical activity outdoors.

"As a family physician, I look at the whole family unit," said Dr. Joe Kim, whose office is at 116 E. Front Street, Suite C, in Laurel. The prescription for walking is for the child, but "we emphasize it has to include the rest of the family, parents and extended family also."

Exercise is not only good for helping children maintain a healthy weight. It's good for hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, depression, anxiety, even lung disease, Kim continued, rattling off a long list of ailments. "We hope the whole family unit will improve their lifestyle."

The pilot project has been in discussion since last fall, and the trio of doctors hope to kick off the program in the fall, with the cooperation of Delaware State Parks, particularly Trap Pond, and Nanticoke Memorial Hospital.

Dr. Harry Lehman, whose pediatric practice is at 411 N. Shipley Street in Seaford, said, "Families who exercise are much more likely to see success in their children's health." As Sussex County transitions to a healthy-eating lifestyle, part of the effort to make Delaware's children the healthiest in the nation, the walking program fits a real need. "There's so much focus on eating," Lehman continued, "but we look also at activity. Walking is a low cost, low impact family activity."

The third doctor involved is Dr. Meredith M. Arthur at Nanticoke Pediatrics, 613 West High Street in Seaford. Lehman explained the goal is to be able to write a prescription for a walking plan, to give families a map or brochure of trails at Trap Pond and other sites. The literature will explain steps per mile and calories burned per mile. The doctors hope their patients will come back with a record log to give feedback on the experience.

The state parks are excited about a program that will highlight the parks, he added. The physicians' prescriptions will allow free park admission to Trap Pond and access to community track and trail facilities. For second and subsequent visits, an annual pass is available for purchase.

The intention is to encourage family activity outdoors rather than to go to a mall to walk in inclement weather. "We want them outside, even in cold weather, away from their food source and electronics  TV screens and computer games. That will be our message: outside, warm or cold, sun or rain. A little rain never hurt anyone," Lehman said.

Lehman blamed obesity on air conditioning. "We stay inside and use technology that has developed," he said, recalling growing up in western Pennsylvania with no air conditioning and a television with an antenna. "We wanted to be outside, to find a cool tree and a breeze. Now it's a constant battle to fight the urge for air conditioning and comfort."

For now, the pilot program will be extended to the patients of these three doctors. Lehman said later they hope to roll out the program to Mid-Sussex physicians at Nanticoke. "If it works, we'll teach them how to write the prescriptions and create brochures."

The pilot program could impact 2,000 children between the three practices. "We're really just trying to get the kids outside," Lehman concluded. With new information on childhood obesity, it's important to give children a good start on a healthy lifestyle from the beginning and encourage the "5-2-1 Almost None" healthy eating plan promoted by Nemours Health and Prevention Services.

About 40 percent of Delaware's children are overweight, compared to a national average of 35 percent. Nine out of 10 parents say their children don't eat right, and 84 percent of them say their children don't get enough exercise.

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