‘Green prescriptions’ could help stem the tide of obesity, say councils

Countryside

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 414 local authority councils across England and Wales, says GPs should offer so-called ‘green prescriptions’ to overweight and obese patients to help tackle the growing problem of obesity.

In the UK, two thirds of the population are now overweight or obese and many experts agree that these figures are set to increase even further unless urgent remedial action is taken.

Similar pilot schemes are already proving successful in the UK, with GPs in Somerset and Devon participating in three-year schemes to promote activity programmes to patients, encouraging them to get active outdoors in the National Parks of Exmoor and Dartmoor with Walking for Health packs. The LGA, which recently inherited responsibility relating to the improvement of public health from the NHS, is now calling for such schemes to be rolled out nationally.

The most recent guidance for health professionals suggests that as many as one in four patients would increase their physical activity if advised to do so by a nurse or their GP, and research published in the British Medical Journal reveals that a green prescription may improve quality of life, health and potentially longevity in as little as 12 months of participation in such a programme.

Outdoors

How does a ‘green prescription’ work?

The ‘green prescription’ model, which involves support towards increasing regular outdoor exercise and other physical activity, has proved very successful in New Zealand since its introduction in 1998. There, eight out of 10 GPs have issued the prescriptions to patients, who are then referred to a patient support liaison. The support team actively encourage the patient to engage in more physical activity through regular contact – a combination of face-to-face meetings, phone calls and via a support group, with progress reported back to the referring GP.

A recent survey of New Zealand’s green prescription patients found that 72% felt a positive change to their health, 67% had improved their diet and 51% felt fitter and stronger as a result of taking part in the programme.    

Councillor Izzi Seccombe, Chairman of the LGA's Community Wellbeing Board, says that “not every visit to a GP is necessarily a medical one”. She adds: "There are some instances where rather than prescribing a pill, advising on some type of moderate physical activity outdoors could be far more beneficial to the patient.

"This could be going on organised walks, conservation work with a local park group, or gardening at home.

"The green prescription model is something that could help to tackle major health conditions such as obesity and diabetes. There are already some good examples where this is being piloted in the UK, and it is something we should consider on a nationwide basis."

Hiking Mountains

Cradle to grave inactivity crisis

Steven Ward, ukactive Executive Director, says: "Britain is in the grip of a cradle to grave physical inactivity crisis and the great outdoors is a fantastic gateway for getting people moving again.

"Physical activity has been hailed as a miracle cure which can help to treat and prevent more than 20 lifestyle-related diseases and if GPs were to prescribe this it would bring huge benefits to people's physical and mental health.

"As ukactive has seen with our targeted intervention programme Let's Get Moving, empowering at-risk patients to take part in regular physical activity transforms lives and offers a potent antidote to our growing health crisis."

“Golden opportunity”

The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) says such a move would have its “full support”.

Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive at the RSPH, says: “People trust doctors and take the advice and prescriptions they give them seriously. There is a golden opportunity for doctors to aid people in getting outdoors and being more physically active by giving them “green prescriptions” – as already happens in New Zealand, with very encouraging results.

“Getting physically active outdoors is free with no cost to the NHS, but can have a hugely beneficial impact not only on physical health, including helping to maintain a healthy weight, but also on mental wellbeing and happiness. The all-encompassing benefits of physical activity make it the perfect prescription for many people and we would be happy to see doctors promoting this opportunity to patients across the UK.”

For tips on how to increase your physical activity, including gentle exercise such as walking, check out our Live Healthy article.


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