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Doctors prescribing bike-share memberships to combat obesity

Categories: Community, Health

 A newly launched City of Boston / Boston Medical Centre program gives patients memberships to Boston's Hubway system in hopes of providing them a healthier and more affordable method of transportation.(Hubway) 

Doctors in Boston will soon have a new tool in their arsenal when it comes to improving the health of obese patients: the humble, yet powerful bicycle.

In an effort to get sedentary Bostonians moving more, as well as provide affordable transportation for low-income residents, The City of Boston and the Boston Medical Center (BMC) have partnered together in creation of program they're calling "Prescribe-a-Bike." 

The program, launched today, allows all BMC medical professionals to write prescriptions for memberships to a local bike-sharing program called Hubway, which currently boasts 1,100 bikes at 130 locations around the city. 

Much like Canada's own Bixi system, Hubway users can borrow a bike from any location and then drop it off at another, providing themselves a convenient and healthy way to get around.

Qualified low-income patients will pay only $5 for an annual membership to the program, which entitles them to an unlimited number of trips on Hubway bikes for up to 30 minutes at a time. They'll also receive a free helmet, according to the Boston mayor's office.

"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 a statement published by the Boston Globe. "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." 

To qualify for a prescription, patients must be 16 years or older either have a household income of no more than 4 times the poverty level or be enrolled in some form of public assistance according to the statement. 

The program's creators hope to enroll at least 1,000 low-income residents in Prescribe-a-Bike this year, and potentially expand to include more hospitals. 

 "We have already received some calls from other hospitals and health clinics who are interested," said Nicole Freedman, director of bicycle programs for the City of Boston, to Boston Magazine. "It's a new way to reach out and promote health." 

What do you think of the program? Would you support something similar in your region? Weigh in below.

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