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Over the past thirty years, childhood in America has moved indoors.

Where in the past, children were turned lose outdoors, today children spend 1% of their free time outdoors-which amounts to about 30 mins of free play outdoors per week.

For comparison, the average American child spends approximately seven hours each day in front of screens. Childhood has retreated indoors, and this has consequences for our children's present and future health and wellbeing. Opportunities for free play have diminished even during the school day. In recent years, 25 - 40% of elementary schools have cut or significantly diminished recess. While in the 1970s 5% of American children met criteria for obesity, by the last decade this number had risen to 16% and in 2011 more than 17% of adolescents in Philadelphia were obese. Increasingly, the evidence suggests what we intuitively know to be true. That is to say that play, especially when it is unstructured and outdoors, has a central role in the healthy development of children. Numerous studies in recent years expand these findings. This kind of play offers measurable benefits for:

  • Development
  • Physical Health
  • Mental Health


Below are studies and articles that reveal the importance of time in nature

Benefits of Nature Contact for Children

Louise Chawla

Journal of Planning Literature


This review examines different ways that contact with nature can contribute to the health and well-being of children. Applying the capabilities approach to human development for a broad definition of well-being, it traces research from the 1970s to the present, following shifting research approaches that investigate different dimensions of health. A compelling body of evidence exists that trees and natural areas are essential elements of healthy communities for children. They need to be integrated at multiple scales, from landscaping around homes, schools, and childcare centers, to linked systems of urban trails, greenways, parks, and ‘‘rough ground’’ for children’s creative play.

Last Child In the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

Richard Louv


Louv's book investigates the relationship of children and the natural world in current and historical contexts. Louv created the term “nature-deficit disorder” to describe possible negative consequences to individual health and the social fabric as children move indoors and away from physical contact with the natural world – particularly unstructured, solitary experience. Louv cites research pointing to attention disorders, obesity, a dampening of creativity and depression as problems associated with a nature-deficient childhood. He amassed information on the subject from practitioners of many disciplines to make his case, and is commonly credited with helping to inspire an international movement to reintroduce children to nature.

The relationship between nature connectedness and happiness: a meta analysis

Capaldi, C.A., R.L. Dopko, and J.M. Zelenski

Frontiers in Psychology


Research suggests that contact with nature can be beneficial, for example leading to improvements in mood, cognition, and health. A distinct but related idea is the personality construct of subjective nature connectedness, a stable individual difference in cognitive, affective, and experiential connection with the natural environment. Subjective nature connectedness is a strong predictor of pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors that may also be positively associated with subjective well-being.his research highlights the importance of considering personality when examining the psychological benefits of nature. The results suggest that closer human-nature relationships do not have to come at the expense of happiness. Rather, this meta-analysis shows that being connected to nature and feeling happy are, in fact, connected.

No Child Left Inside: Reconnecting kids with the outdoors. Testimony of Kenneth Ginsburg, on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

American Academy of Pediatrics, Ginsburg, K., and the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Natural Parks, Forests and Public lands and the subcommittee on fisheries, wildlife and oceans

May 24, 2006

Play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for HumanRights as a right of every child. Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development. It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact with the world around them. Play allows children to create and explore a world they can master, conquering their fears while practicing adult roles, sometimes in conjunction with other children or adult caregivers. As they master their world, play helps children develop new competencies that lead to enhanced confidence and the resiliency they will need to face future challenges. Undirected play allows children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts, and to learn self-advocacy skills. When play is allowed to be child driven, children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, discover their own areas of interest, and ultimately engage fully in the passions they wish to pursue.

The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature.

Berman, M. G., Jonides, J., & Kaplan, S

Psychological Science


We compare the restorative effects on cognitive functioning of interactions with natural versus urban environments. Attention restoration theory (ART) provides an analysis of the kinds of environments that lead to improvements in directed-attention abilities. Nature, which is filled with intriguing stimuli, modestly grabs attention in a bottom-up fashion, allowing top-down directed-attention abilities a chance to replenish. Unlike natural environments, urban environments are filled with stimulation that captures attention dramatically and additionally requires directed attention (e.g., to avoid being hit by a car), making them less restorative. We present two experiments that show that walking in nature or viewing pictures of nature can improve directed-attention abilities as measured with a backwards digit-span task and the Attention Network Task, thus validating attention restoration theory.

Resurrecting Free Play in Young Children: looking beyond fitness and fatness to attention, affiliation, and affect

Burdette HL, Whitaker RC

Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine,


We have observed that the nature and amount of free play in young children has changed. Our purpose in this article is to demonstrate why play, and particularly active, unstructured, outdoor play, needs to be restored in children’s lives.We propose that efforts to increase physical activity in young children might be more successful if physical activity is promoted using different language—encouraging play—andif a different set of outcomes are emphasized—aspects of child well-being other than physical health. Because most physical activity in preschoolers is equivalent to gross motor play, we suggest that the term “play” be used to encourage movement in preschoolers. The benefits of play on children’s social, emotional, and cognitive development are explored.

A National study of neighborhood safety, outdoor play, television viewing, and obesity in preschool children

Burdette, H.L., and Whitaker, R.C.



Objective. To test the hypothesis that preschool children have a higher prevalence of obesity, spend less time playing outdoors, and spend more time watching television (TV) when they live in neighborhoods that their mothers perceive as unsafe.Conclusions. In a national sample of preschool children, mothers' perception of neighborhood safety was related to their children's TV viewing time but not to their outdoor play time or risk for obesity.

Health benefits to children from contact with the outdoors & nature

Charles, C., Loge, A.S

Children & Nature Network.


Bell and colleagues critically review the last 10 years of research that has examined relationships between greenspace and quality of life. Major areas reviewed in this report are: health and well-being, social and community value, economic value/impacts, environmental value, and planning and design. Research related to children is one of the main topics highlighted in the various sections of this report. In their review, Bell and colleagues also discuss their criteria for article inclusion, highlight methodological limitations of studies conducted to date, and identify key research gaps.

A prospective examination of children’s time spent outdoors, objectively measured physical activity and overweight

Cleland, V., Crawford, D., Baur, L., Hume, C., Timperio, A., and Salmon, J.

International Journal of Obesity


This study aimed to determine whether time spent outdoors was associated with objectively measured physical activity, body mass index (BMI) z-score and overweight in elementary-school aged children, cross-sectionally and prospectively over 3 years.ncouraging 10-12-year-old children to spend more time outdoors may be an effective strategy for increasing physical activity and preventing increases in overweight and obesity. Intervention research investigating the effect of increasing time outdoors on children's physical activity and overweight is warranted.

Opening Doors to Happier, Healthier Lives. Report and Recommendations form the New Hampshire Children in Nature Coalition

Gerrior, J., and Graham J.

The New Hampshire Children in Nature Coalition Report


The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Perspective

Kaplan, R., & Kaplan, S.


n this volume concerning the natural environment, people, and the relationship between them, Rachel and Stephen Kaplan offer the first research-based analysis of the vital psychological role that nature plays in our lives. Over a period of twenty years, the authors have sought to understand how people perceive nature and what types of natural environments they prefer, what psychological benefits they seem to derive from wilderness experiences, and why backyard gardens are especially important to some people. The book examines the satisfactions and advantages that various natural settings bring to us.

Looking, talking, and blood pressure: the physiological consequences of interaction with the living environment

Katcher, A., Friedmann, E., Beck, A. and Lynch, J. J.

New Perspectives on Our Lives with Companion Animals


Coping With Poverty: Impacts of Environment and Attention in the Inner City

Kuo, F. E.

Environment and Behavior


Considerable evidence suggests that exposure to “green” environments can enhance human effectiveness and make life’s demands seem manageable. Does this phenomenon extend to poor inner cities, where green space is minimal and life’s demands may be overwhelming? In 145 urban public housing residents randomly assigned to buildings with and without nearby nature, attentional functioning and effectiveness in managing major life issues were compared. Residents living in buildings without nearby trees and grass reported more procrastination in facing their major issues and assessed their issues as more severe, less soluble, and more longstanding than did their counterparts living in greener surroundings. Mediation tests and extensive tests for possible confounds supported the attention restoration hypothesis—that green space enhances residents’ effectiveness by reducing mental fatigue. These findings suggest that urban public housing environments could be configured to enhance residents’ psychological resources for coping with poverty

Environment and crime in the inner city: does vegetation reduce crime?

Kuo, F. E. and Sullivan, W. C.

Environment and Behavior


Although vegetation has been positively linked to fear of crime and crime in a number of settings, recent findings in urban residential areas have hinted at a possible negative relationship: Residents living in “greener” surroundings report lower levels of fear, fewer incivilities, and less aggressive and violent behavior. This study used police crime reports to examine the relationship between vegetation and crime in an inner-city neighborhood. Crime rates for 98 apartment buildings with varying levels of nearby vegetation were compared. Results indicate that although residents were randomly assigned to different levels of nearby vegetation, the greener a building’s surroundings were, the fewer crimes reported. Furthermore, this pattern held for both property crimes and violent crimes. The relationship of vegetation to crime held after the number of apartments per building, building height, vacancy rate, and number of occupied units per building were accounted for.

A Potential Natural Treatment for Attention-Deficit/ HyperactivityDisorder: Evidence From a National Study

Kuo, F. and A. Faber Taylor.

American Journal of Public Health


In this article, we report the results of 1 in a series of studies exploring a possible new treatment for ADHD. The findings outlined here, taken in the context of previous research, suggest that common after-school and weekend activities conducted in relatively natural outdoor environments may be widely effective in reducing ADHD symptoms. If controlled experiments and clinical trials bear out this potential, such natural treatments promise to supplement current approaches to managing ADHD, with the advantages of being widely accessible, inexpensive, nonstigmatizing, and free of side effects.

City living and urban upbringing affect neural social stress processing in humans

Lederborgen, F., Kirsch, P., Haddad,L., Streit, F., Tost, H., Schuch, P., Wust, S., Pruessner, J.C., Rietschel, M., Deuschle, M., and Meyer-Lindenberg., A.



More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities, making the creation of a healthy urban environment a major policy priority. Cities have both health risks and benefits but mental health is negatively affected: mood and anxiety disorders are more prevalent in city dwellers and the incidence of schizophrenia is strongly increased in people born and raised in cities. Although these findingshave been widely attributed to the urban social environment the neural processes that could mediate such associations are unknown. Here we show, using functional magnetic resonance imaging in three independent experiments, that urban upbringing and city living have dissociable impacts on social evaluative stress processing in humans. Current city living was associated withincreased amygdala activity, whereas urban upbringing affectedthe perigenual anterior cingulate cortex, a key region for regulationof amygdala activity, negative affect and stress. These findings were regionally and behaviourally specific, as no other brain structureswere affected and no urbanicity effect was seen during control experiments invoking cognitive processing without stress. Our results identify distinct neural mechanisms for an established environmental risk factor, link the urban environment for the first time to social stress processing, suggest that brain regions differ in vulnerability to this risk factor across the lifespan, and indicate that experimental interrogation of epidemiological associations is a promising strategy in social neuroscience.

Fertile Green: Green facilitates creative performance

Lichtenfeld, S., Elliot, A.J., Maier, M.A., Pekrun, R.

Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin


The present research sought to extend the nascent literature on color and psychological functioning by examining whether perception of the color green facilitates creativity. In four experiments, we demonstrated that a brief glimpse of green prior to a creativity task enhances creative performance. This green effect was observed using both achromatic (white, gray) and chromatic (red, blue) contrast colors that were carefully matched on nonhue properties, and using both picture-based and word-based assessments of creativity. Participants were not aware of the purpose of the experiment, and null effects were obtained on participants’ self-reported mood and positive activation. These findings indicate that green has implications beyond aesthetics and suggest the need for sustained empirical work on the functional meaning of green

Healthy nature healthy people: ‘contact with nature’ as an upstream health promotion intervention for populations

Maller, C., Townsend, M., Pryor, A., Brown, P., and St Leger, L.

Health Promotion International


This paper presents a summary of empirical, theoretical and anecdotal evidence drawn from a literature review of the human health benefits of contact with nature. Initial findings indicate that nature plays a vital role in human health and well-being, and that parks and nature reserves play a significant role by providing access to nature for individuals. Implications suggest contact with nature may provide an effective population-wide strategy in prevention of mental ill health, with potential application for sub-populations, communities and individuals at higher risk of ill health. Recommendations include further investigation of ‘contact with nature’ in population health, and examination of the benefits of nature-based interventions.

Parks, Playgrounds and Active Living

Mowen, A. J.

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation


Regular physical activity increases longevity, well-being, helps children and adults maintain a healthy weight, and can reduce the risk for obesity and its related health consequences. Parks and playgrounds provide a wide variety of opportunities for physical activity and have the potential to help many Americanslead a more active lifestyle. Across all major U.S. cities, there are approximately 20,000 individual parks and more than 10,000 playgrounds. The total area covered by urban parks in the United States exceeds 1 million acres.1 And these figures only represent major cities. They are much higher when suburban and rural parks and play­grounds are taken into account. For example, Cleveland Metroparks, a park district in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, operates 21,250 acres and attracts more than 16 million recreational visits andm3.5 million program visits annually. The collective body of evidence suggests that parks and playgrounds encourage physical activity, although the data are not entirely consistent. Research also indicates that the capacity of America’s parks could be further leveraged to promote opportunities for helping diverse populations achieve recommended physical activity levels.

Using nature and outdoor activity to improve children's health

For Further Reading and Information:Kuo, F. E. and Sullivan, W. C

Current Problems in Pediatric and Adolescent Health Care


hildhood obesity affects 17% or 12.5 million of America's children, contributing to the rise in children's health disparities. Type 2 diabetes, asthma, vitamin D deficiency, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder have also increased over the past few decades. A shift toward a sedentary lifestyle is a major contributor to the decline in children's health. Children spend more time indoors using electronic media and less time engaged in outdoor unstructured play. This article reviews the current evidence of the mental and physical health benefits associated with unstructured, outdoor activities and time spent in a natural environment such as a park or other recreational area. Pediatric health care providers should recommend outdoor activities for children and refer families to safe and easily accessible outdoor areas. Pediatric health care providers can incorporate this simple, lifestyle-based intervention into anticipatory guidance.

The Effects of Exercise in Forest and Urban Environments on Sympathetic Nervous Activity of Normal Young Adults

Yamaguchi, M., Deguchi, M. and Miyazaki, Y.

Journal of International Medical Research


n Japan, forest-air bathing and walking (shinrin-yoku) has been proposed as a health-facilitating activity in which people spend a short period of time in a forest environment. Initially, we examined the usefulness of salivary amylase activity as an indicator of an individual's stress levels in a forest environment. The circadian rhythm of salivary amylase activity was measured in healthy young male subjects under stress-free conditions. The salivary amylase activity remained relatively constant throughout the day. Salivary amylase activity was then measured before and after walking in both urban and forest environments using a hand-held monitor. Our results indicated that (i) the circadian rhythm fluctuations in salivary amylase activity were much smaller than the stressor-induced variations; (ii) salivary amylase activity was an excellent indicator of the changes in sympathetic nervous activity; and (iii) the forest was a good environment in which people could experience much less environment-derived stress. Discover the world's research

Fact Sheet - Children’s Health and Nature

National Environmental Education Foundation.


Parks and Other Green Environments: Essential Components of a Healthy Human Habitat

Kuo, F. E.

National Recreation and Park Association


an overview of what scientists have discovered about the relationship between nature and human health, focusing on the most compelling findings. It focuses on three classic indicators of health drawn from animal research. Studies of laboratory and zoo animals, as well as animals in the wild living in degraded and fragmented habitat tells us that organisms living in unfit habitats undergo social, psychological, and physical breakdown. The scientific study of what Richard Louv has coined “nature deficit disorder” in people mirrors the animal research on unfit habitats. When we compare people with more versus less ready access to parks and other green environments, we find that they exhibit differences in well-being and functioning in each of the three trademark domains: social, psychological, and physical health

Children and Nature Initiative Trains Health Care Professionals to Get Kids Outside

National Environmental Education Foundation

September 2010

Reventing serious health conditions like obesity and diabetes and reconnecting children to nature. Unstructured outdoor activity may improve children’s health by increasing physical activity, reducing stress and serving as a support mechanism for attention disorders

Contributions of Built Environment to Childhood Obesity

Rahman, T., Cushing, R. A., & Jackson, R. J.

Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine: A Journal of Translational and Personalized Medicine


As childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions, it is critical to devise interventions that target the root causes of obesity and its risk factors. The two main components of childhood obesity are physical inactivity and improper nutrition, and it is becoming increasingly evident that the built environment can determine the level of exposure to these risk factors. Through a multidisciplinary literature review, we investigated the association between various built environment attributes and childhood obesity. We found that neighborhood features such as walkability/bikeability, mixed land use, accessible destinations, and transit increase resident physical activity; also that access to high-caloric foods and convenience stores increases risk of overweight and obesity, whereas the presence of neighborhood supermarkets and farmers' markets is associated with lower childhood body mass index and overweight status. It is evident that a child's built environment impacts his access to nutritious foods and physical activity. In order for children, as well as adults, to prevent onset of overweight or obesity, they need safe places to be active and local markets that offer affordable, healthy food options

Beyond Blue to Green: The benefits of contact with nature for mental health and well-being.

Townsend, M., & Weerasuriya, R.

This report, commissioned by beyondblue: the national depression initiative (beyondblue),provides a review of existing Australian and international literature on the links between mental health and well-being and contact with nature, especially through green spaces. The evidence included in the review has been drawn from a range of sources including relevant electronic databases, peer-reviewed journals and grey literature. In contrast to past reviews, which have been broader in scope, the major focus of Beyond Blue to Green is on the links between parks and other green open spaces and mental health, in particular depressionand anxiety. While the review mainly concentrates on the most recent literature, where it is relevant (for example, to demonstrate changes in attitudes and understandings), older literature from earlier reviews has been included

Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning

Williams, Florence

Outside Magazine


These days, screen-addicted Americans are more stressed out and distracted than ever. And nope, there’s no app for that. But there is a radically simple remedy: get outside. Florence Williams travels to the deep woods of Japan, where researchers are backing up the surprising theory that nature can lower your blood pressure, fight off depression, beat back stress

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