In San Diego County, California’s unincorporated Lakeside community, engaging in physical activity is a challenge for many families due to a lack of resources and negative perceptions of nearby parks. In 2013, the County of San Diego Department of Parks and Recreation launched a coordinated effort in Lakeside to: 1) assist local healthcare providers in connecting overweight youth to opportunities for exercise; and 2) address cost, information and perception barriers to park and recreation programs. Through the Rec Rx initiative, the County hoped to help more children attain their fitness goals and adopt lifelong healthy behaviors.
The County piloted Rec Rx in 2009 in the Spring Valley community, whereby free recreation programs, as well as fitness classes for a $5 copay fee, were made available to overweight and obese youth through clinical prescriptions. To assist pediatricians in making the prescriptions, the County created handouts with information about qualifying park programs along with maps detailing public transportation routes. The program helped educate many families about their neighborhood parks and created a sense of community connectedness in the area.
Lakeside was an ideal location to expand Rec Rx. The community is home to Lindo Lake County Park, a recreational hub. A wide variety of amenities there support active recreation, including a community center, teen center, playgrounds, green space, sports fields and a 17-station fitness trail. Although residents have long considered Lindo Lake Park unsafe, the County has worked to improve perceptions over the last decade by increasing the park’s offering of community events and programs. The department hoped Rec Rx would further demonstrate the park’s value.
The park is also in extremely close proximity to the Neighborhood Healthcare (NHC) Lakeside clinic, a principle healthcare provider for Rec Rx. “The premise is, if the patients can get to the clinic, they can definitely get to the park,” notes District Manager Christine Lafontant of the County of San Diego Department of Parks and Recreation.
More than 30 recreation classes were made available to Lakeside patients through a $5 copay system. The County further reduced cost barriers by providing free programs, including ranger-led hikes, a “Fit Kids” program via the Healthy Adventures Foundation and a brochure-led TRACK Trails program developed by Kids in Parks.