Almost a fortnight ago Professor Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England, announced the return of a disease many thought had died out.
Rickets is back, screamed newspaper headlines. The solution, claimed Professor Davies, was to hand out free vitamin supplements at schools to combat widespread vitamin deficiency (and, in particular, a lack of vitamin D, the major cause of rickets). Getting children outdoors and into the sun wasn't mentioned - either by the Chief Medical Officer or by a majority of the papers.
Davies' recommendations on rickets were contained in the annual Chief Medical Officer's report, which this year examined ways to improve poor child health in the UK.
It's an excellent report and well worth reading (although, running to two heavy volumes, being stuck indoors reading the report may well lead to the early onset of rickets). It paints a sad picture: of poor diet, a decline of physical activity, and a rise in ill health and unhappiness. The UK has one of the highest child mortality rates in Europe, with five more child deaths per day in the UK compared to Sweden.
The report emphasised the need for early intervention - proactive rather than reactive measures - to ensure good health.
Making PROJECT WILD THING I became interested in the public health benefits of prescribing 'wild time' to young children. If they catch the nature bug early, young children are far more likely to grow up to love the outdoors. So, working with a doctor and graphic designer, we created our own 'early intervention', the Out and About Card - a beautifully designed A4 card that encouraged new mothers to take their baby outdoors. We wanted to give it out to parents as they left the hospital maternity ward. You can download the Out and About Card here.
The wider health benefits of getting outdoors need to be recognised and promoted by healthcare providers. Green space isn't just somewhere children can play. As a recent study by MIND demonstrated, spending time in nature can improve child mental health.
GPs are already prescribing nature walks for adults. Why isn't more being done to promote the health benefits of spending time outdoors for children? I hope that Play England and the Department of Health's research into street play will go some way to redress this.
But, as ever, we need more. A paper into poverty and obesity published earlier this week by Public Health England made clear the huge imbalance in people's ability to access green space. Children growing up in poverty are nine times less likely to be able to access good quality green space than those living in affluent households.
The National Health Service is one of the great democratising forces in our society - in theory at least it exists for all at the point of need. The NHS should be at the forefront of efforts to reconnect children in the UK with nature.
Help us reconnect a generation with the outdoors. Please watch or arrange a community screening of PROJECT WILD THING - currently out in cinemas - and join a movement to reintroduce children into the wild. All profits from the film are going to THE WILD NETWORK, to help reconnect children with nature.