Last week, primary care providers in Maine began handing out state park passes to their young patients as part of a prescription for more physical activity. This is a good way to encourage families to be active while experiencing the state’s beauty and history.
The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry will give away 13,000 passes this year to 148 medical practices that participate in the Let’s Go! program. The passes, which are being offered for the fourth year, are good at any of the the state’s 48 parks and historic sites. Baxter State Park, which is not administered by the state, is not included. The one-time use passes are good through December.
State parks range from ocean beaches such as Popham and Reid to mountain tops such as Mount Blue and Mount Kineo. There are also hundreds of miles of hiking trails throughout the state at parks including Camden Hills, Aroostook and Grafton Notch. Historic sites include numerous forts from Fort Kent to Fort McClary in Kittery to Adm. Robert Peary’s home on Eagle Island.
“We love being able to offer free passes to our patients and their families,” Roxanne Thomas, the office manager at Bayview Pediatrics in Yarmouth, said in the press release. “These passes provide patients with an extra incentive to act on our advice to move more. Regular physical activity keeps us healthy and increases self-esteem.”
The free parks passes are part of Let’s Go!, a childhood obesity prevention effort that emphasizes physical activity and healthy food choices. Participating practices use the 5-2-1-0 program with their patients. It stands for five servings of fruits and vegetables each day; two hours or less of screen time each day; one hour of physical activity daily; and zero sugary drinks in favor of water.
These efforts are showing results.
In 2013, nearly 12 percent of Maine students in grades nine through 12 were obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control. This is below the national average of 13.7 percent.
Maine’s rate has been dropping since 2007, while the national rate has increased.
There are troubling signs however. Only 18 percent of adolescents participated in at least 60 minutes of physical activity each of the seven days of a 2009 CDC survey. Another 18 percent did no activity during that time period and only 6 percent participated in daily physical education classes. Two-thirds of adolescents ate fruit or drank 100 percent fruit juice less than two times per day and 86 percent ate vegetables less than three times per day.
Maine’s adult obesity rate has risen steadily since 1990 from 11 percent to 29 percent in 2013. Obesity-related diseases, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, have followed a similar trend, contributing to the rise in health care costs.
A day at a state park is not going to reverse these trends. But getting families to regularly consider outdoor activity — whether it be canoeing at a lake or hiking up a mountain — will help lay a foundation for healthier lifestyles.