Doctors have a new prescription up their sleeves for kids and teens whose health is suffering: nature. For everything from mental stress to diabetes to obesity, doctors across the country are writing out nature prescriptions to try to get families serious about health and exercise.

The program is part of an initiative called the Nature Champions Program, a partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), National Environmental Education Foundation and a variety of health care professionals and organizations. It was designed as a collaboration between doctors near FWS wildlife areas to develop fun and motivating activities that get kids and their families moving outdoors.

The idea behind the Nature Champions program is to get families outdoors to improve their health, based on countless studies that show that access to nature increases exercise — which we know is good for kids — while also improving kids' moods, reducing stress, and helping kids learn about plants, animals, birds, and rocks that they might otherwise never notice.

Doctors write out the nature prescriptions for kids and teens whose health would be improved by exercise, fresh air, and a connection to the natural world. And the FWS designs special prescription programs that move at an easy pace and include lots of stops for exploration. Health experts and nature advocates seem to agree that you can tell families to get out an exercise until your blue in the face, but they may never try it. But write a prescription for nature and suddenly the whole idea is taken much more seriously.

The walks are open to the public, but children with a prescription receive a special “incentive prize” for participating.

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