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German doctors prescribe kids a trip to the theater

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Martin Schutt/Newscom

(Read caption) Singers rehearse ‘Carmina Burana’ in Erfurt, Germany.

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FRANKFURT - Germany is experimenting with a revolutionary kind of preventive medicine: Doctors are prescribing culture for children.

In one region in the state North Rhine-Westphalia, every child ages 7 through 15 who goes to the pediatrician for a checkup walks out with two free tickets to the theater.

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The Culture Shot program aims at encouraging pediatricians to support children’s “physical, emotional, and intellectual health,” says Hermann-Josef Kahl, the Düsseldorf pediatrician who spearheaded the idea in his city. It rests on a simple idea: Culture fosters better health habits.

“It’s cultural primary prevention,” says Dr. Kahl. “We hope to establish an impulse that shows that opening the door to culture paves the way to better education level, and that better education fosters a healthier way of life.” The stage world can also bring young people a perspective on how to solve conflicts, experts say.

So far it’s a private initiative. The German Association of Pediatricians pays for it and hopes that soon free theater tickets will be delivered to kids around the country in partnership with the country’s 180 Children and Youth theaters. Pediatricians in Bavaria and Berlin are now showing interest in the idea.

Stefan Fischer, who heads the Düsseldorf Children and Youth Theater, calls the concept “revolutionary.” “It revolutionizes our understanding of theater and of medicine,” Mr. Fischer says. “The project makes clear that culture is a basic nutrient and not a luxury.”

Indeed, another premise of Culture Shot is the belief that everyone should experience theater, regardless of family or social background.