Prescribing Nature to Improve Kids’ Health

Pediatrician incorporates ‘nature prescriptions’ into the treatment of type 2 diabetes, depression, anxiety, and other childhood conditions that disproportionately affect low-income families.

Nooshin Razani, MD ’01, MPH, brings her young patients into the woods for a big dose of awe. The feeling – evoked by trees, fresh air, and freedom – can ease loneliness, stress, and other conditions linked to poor health.  

It’s part of the pediatrician’s unorthodox prescription for better kids’ health at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, where she directs the Center for Nature and Health

Type 2 diabetes, depression, anxiety, and feelings of loneliness and isolation are at an all-time high, especially among low-income children. Many of these conditions have high treatment costs, and access to care is, at best, uneven in poor communities. 

Research suggests that access to nature can help prevent chronic illnesses, as well as treat them, because it relieves stress, encourages social bonds, and supports physical activity. The fact that nature helps buffer stress also helps ease depression, anxiety, and isolation. 

But “access to nature is a health equity issue,” say Razani, who encourages families facing multiple social stressors that they have a right to quality time together in the outdoors. “This is about opportunities to heal and to connect with each other and with ourselves. This is about meaningful connections with nature and with family.” 

By partnering with local organizations like the East Bay Regional Parks District and national groups like the Sierra Club and the REI Foundation, Razani and her colleagues can prescribe free or low-cost opportunities for their young patients to experience the great outdoors in ways they might never have otherwise. 

Equally important, she measures how these experiences affect their health. Razani recently completed the first randomized trial of a park prescription program. The visionary clinician also has created some of the first validated protocols for physicians and health systems to integrate nature-based interventions into their practices. 

One of Razani’s nature prescriptions uses a shuttle bus to transport families, doctors, and naturalists together to local parks. “We go boating, fishing, explore the redwoods, see animals,” she says. “I know an outing is going well when I see parents with their feet up, socializing, and the kids running wild and having fun.” 



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