Children health: Natural environments have a lot of positive impacts on people — especially children. According to a review of data from nearly 300 studies, the presence of greenspaces near homes and schools is strongly associated with improved physical activity and mental health outcomes in kids.
Published online in the journal Pediatrics, the review conducted by Washington State University and University of Washington scientists highlighted the important role that exposure to nature plays in children’s health.
“By looking at the full scope of existing quantitative evidence, we were able to see the importance of ready access to nature for both physical and mental health outcomes in childhood,” said Amber Fyfe-Johnson, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor with WSU’s Institute for Research and Education to Advance Community Health (IREACH) and the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.
Amber added, “Access to nature – and the benefits that come with it – are a necessity, not a nicety. Unfortunately, not all kids are able to have regular nature contact. This is due partly to urbanization, increased screen time and more sedentary indoor lifestyles.”
The author also explained how lack of nature exposure disproportionately impacts historically marginalized communities that typically have fewer nearby residential parks and access to outdoor spaces.
Families with limited resources and transportation options also face barriers to accessing parks and natural areas outside the city.
Although these findings may seem self-evident to some, and the American Academy of Pediatrics routinely recommends outdoor playtime, convincing data on the health benefits associated with nature exposure have been lacking, due partly to inconsistencies in study methodologies and definitions of outdoor time.
The authors pointed out that not all time spent outside is equal – a parking lot is not a park, and an urban playground without natural elements is not a garden. And without strong evidence to support the benefits to kids of spending time outside, in nature, there has been little political will to enact or enforce policies that ensure equitable nature contact, said Fyfe-Johnson.