OAKLAND -- Our kids don't exercise outdoors enough, weigh too much, and spend too much time on electronic devices. What's a nation to do?
The nation's largest regional park district has an unusual plan that would include:
Doctors writing prescriptions for hikes.
Schools devising math, reading and science lessons suitable for park day trips or camp-outs.
And nutritionists would devise healthy eating tips that merge into class lessons.
An unusual partnership of the East Bay Regional Park District, schools and health organizations hopes to make it happen in Oakland and Richmond over the next two years if they can win a $2.6 million federal health grant.
"I realize it may seem a little offbeat to some people for a doctor to write them a prescription to take a hike in the outdoors, but it makes sense" said Dr. Richard Godfrey, a surgeon at Highland Hospital in Oakland. "We have a health system based heavily on pharmaceuticals. In truth, many people would be better off taking less medicine and getting in the outdoors more."
The park district, that manages about 112,000 acres of land in Contra Costa and Alameda counties, is taking the lead in the grant application.
The program would be the first of its kind with a park agency taking the lead with school and health care groups, said Carol Johnson, a regional park district assistant general manager.
"We recognize the need for a holistic approach in dealing with a national issue about childhood obesity, and people getting fat," said Carol Johnson, "The goal is to get kids and their families outdoors, and come up with models on ways to break down barriers to that."
Regional park managers said their park system provides a good testing ground for the program called "GO: Get Outdoors." Park officials expect to hear by the end of the September whether it lands the two-year grant from the federal Centers for Disease Control.
The grant would fund six jobs plus part-time helpers to plan, manage and train others in the collaborative effort involving Oakland and West Contra Costa unified school districts, Children's Hospital Oakland, the Alameda County Office of Education, Eco Village, a community group, and the UC Berkeley Atkins Center of Weight and Health.
Caleb Cheung, science program manager in the Oakland school district, said the grant would help develop academic programs to make use of a variety of landscapes, from shoreline and fields, to extinct volcanoes and forests.
"There are plenty of environmental education programs around the state," Cheung said, "Very few have such a strong academic opportunity."
The grant money wouldn't be used to bus students to parks and trails, but some funds would be spent in planning to overcome park use barriers such as the limited public transit available to reach many parks.
"I'm hoping the program will install long-term changes in behavior," said Dr. Nooshin Razani of Children's Hospital. "Getting people into nature can have positive effects on mental health, as well as obesity."
Park officials said if they get the grant, they will look for additional funds and help to extend the program.
Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff