Feature Article - September 2010
Find a printable version here

Kids Get Active

After-School Programs to the Rescue

By Deborah L. Vence

The idea for the pilot program originated, in part, when Kaiser Permanente, an Oakland, Calif.-based integrated managed care organization, approached the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) about its interest in putting together a community outreach program to address childhood obesity.

"It was with Kaiser in 2008 that our initial conversations began. They told us that physicians didn't have the time to follow through. They didn't have the time in the consultation and with the parents to give them information or the resources to follow up afterward," said Terry Bergerson, outdoor recreation planner for Oregon Parks and Recreation.

"There is no evidence-based program for dealing with childhood obesity associated with parks and recreation. And, we wanted to take a look at that and see if there was a possibility in starting a pilot project to lead to the creation of an evidence-based program. There's a greater likelihood that it would be accepted in a medical community in Oregon and maybe even across the country," Bergerson said.

Planning for the Portland Rx Play project began in the fall of 2008 when the OPRD staff began working in the Portland metropolitan area to develop a project addressing a recommendation in the SCORP report that identified a need for Oregon's recreation providers to work with the medical community to get recreation participation information into medical offices and physicians' physical activity referrals.

OPRD's role in the Portland Rx Play project has been to identify key partners, provide overall project management and fund the pilot project research component. Current project partners include Portland Parks and Recreation, Kaiser Permanente, Legacy Health System, Clarendon-Portsmouth School Health Center, Multnomah County Health Department, and the Oregon Health and Science University.

Also, in planning the project, other models across the country were looked at, including the parks and recreation department in San Diego, and New Zealand, which stood out the most, Bergerson noted, with its green prescription program, which is a referral given by a doctor or nurse to a patient, with exercise and lifestyle goals written on it.

The site for Oregon's pilot program is at University Park Community Center in Portland.

"Transportation is tricky in getting kids involved on a regular basis. What we did was identify University Park Community Center in Portland as the central location," Bergerson said. "That's because seven months out of the year, because of the rain, you are talking about indoor activities, especially during the school year. The community center became the central place to funnel kids to."

To be included in the Portland Rx Play Pilot Project, children must be between the ages of 6 and 12, reside in the north Portland area, have a BMI greater than or equal to the 85th percentile for their age and sex (overweight or obese) and have a clinician's approval to engage in moderate physical activity. The results of the pilot study will be used to conduct a randomized trial with a larger group to test the effectiveness and potential public health impact of the approach.

Though data collection still is ongoing, Bergerson said results have been promising.

"So far, we found out that the University Park Community Center received 19 prescriptions from medical providers. Six families have signed up for a few classes, three families are interested in the walking club and nonscheduled activity," he said. "Initial indications [show that] things are working out okay."