The Local Government Association has suggested that doctors should prescribe exercise more often in an attempt to address the obesity epidemic.
Central to its suggestion is the idea that doctors in England and Wales should offer overweight patients green space prescriptions with the intention of encouraging them to exercise more in outdoor environments.
The prescriptions in question could provide free visits to national parks or gardening sessions, for example.
This is already being conducted by some doctors, but the Local Government Association wants the idea to become more prominent nationwide.
In order for this to become a universal aspect of healthcare in the UK, the organisation has suggested that NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups should adopt the initiative.
There are already successful examples of this policy within the NHS system.
In Dorset, doctors are already prescribing walks, conservation work, gardening and sailing to help tackle obestiy.
And East Riding of Yorkshire Council has developed an IT system which links up GPs with leisure centres so they can book patients directly on to exercise plans.
The Local Government Association has taken on responsibility for public health under recent NHS reorganisation.
And its spokeswoman Izzi Seccombe reflected that encouraging people to be more active can have a massively positive influence on health.
“There are some instances where rather than prescribing a pill, advising on some type of moderate physical activity outdoors could be far more beneficial to the patient. There are already some good examples where this is being piloted in the UK and it is something we should consider on a nationwide basis.”
The Royal College of General Practitioners cautiously supported the scheme, but also suggested that it should not be viewed as an alternative use more significantly investing in general practice.
Spokesman Dr Steve Mowle, though, acknowledged that the initiative could be beneficial for population health.
“Social prescribing schemes can certainly be beneficial to a patient’s overall health and wellbeing – as some pilots have shown – but to be effective, there needs to be better integration between health and community services, so that GPs and our teams can signpost our patients most appropriately.”
One in four women and one in five men in England do less than 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, while the government currently recommends 150 minutes per week.
It is known that physical activity can help to prevent and manage over 20 chronic conditions and diseases, including some cancers, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and depression.