Doctors in Boston can now prescribe biking to fight obesity

Just what the doctor ordered?
Written by Tyler Falk, Contributor
Doctors are often criticized for overprescribing medications--from antibiotics and antidepressants to ADHD medication. But there may be one new treatment option where a lot of prescriptions wouldn't be a bad idea.

A new program unveiled by the city of Boston allows doctors to prescribe their patients memberships for the city's bikeshare program, Hubway. The idea is that doctors can provide their low-income patients a healthy, affordable transportation alternative. With a prescription, annual membership for Hubway costs only $5. Without the prescription, dues are $85.

"Obesity is a significant and growing health concern for our city, particularly among low-income Boston residents," said Kate Walsh, chief executive of Boston Medical Center, in the statement. "Regular exercise is key to combating this trend, and Prescribe-a-Bike is one important way our caregivers can help patients get the exercise they need to be healthy." According to Walsh, one-in-four low-income Bostonians are obese.

But do the health benefits outweigh the risks inherent in cycling, like crashes or exposure to poor air quality?

The Atlantic Cities points to an overview of the research on bicycling and health published by University of British Columbia Medical Journal. One of their major conclusions: "there is a large net health benefit of increased cycling, since the risk of fatal injury is greatly outweighed by the reductions in mortality afforded by increased physical activity."

Still, the researchers say that cities in North America could do more to reduce the risk of cycling with improved bicycling infrastructure, such as cycle tracks that provide a barrier between car traffic and bike traffic.

But even with more improvement, it will be up to patients to take their "medicine."

It's not the first time Massachusetts has developed an innovative initiative to allow doctors to prescribe non-medicinal treatments to patients. Last year, Massachusetts General Hospital teamed up with The Appalachian Mountain Club so that doctors could prescribe active outdoor activities for sedentary kids.

Photo: Flickr/derekbruff

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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