DCNR Good Natured Pennsylvanians: Elisa Sarantschin, NaturePHL
Elisa Sarantschin, director of NaturePHL, is helping Philadelphia’s children and families achieve better health through activity in local parks, trails, and green spaces.
Through NaturePHL, she’s bringing together physicians, educators, public health advocates, park and recreation agencies, and other organizations to offer outdoor activity and nature prescriptions for Philadelphia families.
Pediatricians at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia give counseling to patients and their families about the benefits of outdoor recreation and time in nature during every well child visit.
Doctors can give tailored messaging and prescriptions for where to go and what to do. Everyone can benefit from NaturePHL messaging, which is why the prescriptions are meant for the whole family.
Elisa says that, “there are different health benefits associated with spending time in nature, both physical and mental for different age groups, so our program makes sure to address this by creating different materials and resources for each age group.”
Exercise and outdoor recreation have long been a recommendation by doctors; however, this program differs from simple “doctors’ orders.” NaturePHL’s core goal is creating behavior change as opposed to one-time change.
The program is a resource for physicians, giving providers the ability to give local, specific, and impactful counseling about how children should be getting 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
The final step in program is having providers refer families to a Nature Navigator, who is a community health worker and social worker that works to help the family fill their prescription.
Nature Navigators are another important component that makes NaturePHL one of the most successful of its kind.
They use motivational interviewing techniques to understand what real or perceived barriers families have to spending more time outside; and help them overcome these barriers by working personally with a family for a few months in order to start creating a behavior change.
“Our team has a background in public health and knows about the socio-economic model and the importance of an individual’s spheres of influence; meaning, you can’t just have a doctor telling a patient to get more exercise and spend more time outdoors. Instead, you need the messaging to be coming from all of their spheres of influence, which for our program means school educators, family members, parks and recreation leaders.”
Nature prescriptions and counseling about the benefits of being outside can be used as preventive measures for childhood obesity, as well as other physical and mental disorders seen in both children and adults.
Elisa thinks programs like NaturePHL will have a strong influence on decreasing childhood obesity and improving public health.
Elisa loves everything about being outdoors. Her favorite activity is hiking with her rescued shepherd mix, as well as kayaking and biking in the many outdoor recreation spaces in Philadelphia where she lives.
“There is a movement surfacing regarding how to link health and nature. I would love for more programs like NaturePHL to continue to expand and grow to the rest of Pennsylvania,” she says. “I believe that initiatives involving the health care community and disseminating more information about how being outside and spending time in nature can improve physical and mental health is the first step.”
Know of a good natured Pennsylvanian who is passionate about outdoor recreation and/or conservation that we should feature? Contact DCNR by sending email to: email@example.com to nominate someone.
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[Posted: May 30, 2019]
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