National Park Service Press Release

Doctor Tells Patients to Take a Hike -- Congressman Sarbanes, Director Jarvis Visit Innovative Park Rx Health Clinic
For Immediate Release:
July 08, 2014
Contact(s):   Kathy Kupper, 202-208-6843

Audrey White, 202-715-7982

Doctor Tells Patients to Take a Hike -- Congressman Sarbanes, Director Jarvis Visit Innovative Park Rx Health Clinic

 WASHINGTON – Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) joined National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis and DC Park Prescriptions, or Park Rx, champion Dr. Robert Zarr today to learn about an innovative program in which doctors prescribe time in nature as a way to help treat chronic diseases such as obesity.

Zarr is a practicing primary care pediatrician at Unity’s Upper Cardozo Health Center in Washington, D.C. With more than 40 percent of Unity’s adult patients and 25 percent of Unity’s pediatric patients categorized as obese, he became passionately engaged in the implementation of the DC Park Rx as an innovative solution for his patients. 

“This is a unique opportunity for obesity prevention by prescribing parks for children and adults who are suffering from chronic diseases. Nature is free and readily available; we simply have to access it," Zarr said. 

Parks and public lands are playing a growing role in health care strategy. "National parks have always been loved for their symbolism and scenery, but we want to increase the awareness of their role in preventative medicine and therapy, "Jarvis said. “The park prescriptions partnership is an example of how nation al parks can help people lead healthier lives." 

The Park Rx initiative is a component of the broader Healthy Parks Healthy People movement that recognizes the physical, mental and spiritual benefits gained from time spent outdoors. Participants in the Healthy Parks Healthy People program include national, state, and local parks, as well as business innovators, healthcare leaders, scientists, foundations, and advocacy organizations that foster and build-upon the role that parks and nature play in the health of our society.

“America’s national parks are some of our country’s most prized natural treasures and we should encourage everyone to take advantage of the benefits they have to offer,” said Sarbanes. “We know that engaging citizens – particularly young people –in outdoor activities not only increases their connection to the environment around them, but it can also improve their health outcomes. This program will help American families become healthier and also create the next generation of environmental stewards.” 

What sets the DC Park Rx initiative apart from similar programs across the country is that Zarr has fully integrated Park Rx into Unity’s Electronic Health Records system to make park prescriptions easy for everyone. The National Park Service, DC Departments of Health and Parks and Recreation, National Environmental Education Foundation, DC American Academy of Pediatrics, George Washington University and Children’s National Medical Center worked collaboratively to create a searchable database of 350 parks located within the city, and rate them according to specific criteria such as level of activity, accessibility, cleanliness, and safety. 

Clinicians can now ask their patients which activities might be of interest to them and then search the database to find the right park closest to their homes. Patients leave their doctor’s office with a printed copy of the prescribed park and activities tailored to their areas of interest.


About the National Park Service. More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America's 401 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities. Visit us at, on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube 

About Unity. Unity Health Care, Inc. is Washington, D.C.’s largest nonprofit health and social services organization serving more than 100,000 individuals and families annually in all eight wards of the District. Through its network of 29 traditional and non-traditional healthcare service sites and mobile medical care, Unity provides healthcare and social services to the most vulnerable residents of the District – including the uninsured, working poor, homeless, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated. For more information about Unity Health Care, visit our website at or contact our Marketing Department at 202-715-7887. 

About Congressman John P. Sarbanes. Congressman Sarbanes was born and raised in Baltimore, MD and has represented Maryland’s Third District (portions of Anne Arundel County, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Howard County, and Montgomery County) in the U.S. Congress since 2007. The Congressman has also worked to expand environmental education opportunities for children around the country. His proposal, the No Child Left Inside Act, would support outdoor learning activities at both schools and non-formal environmental education centers, as well as teacher professional development and the creation of state environmental literacy plans.

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