Think back to when you were a little kid. Chances are, many of your happiest memories probably involve some element of nature: climbing trees, skipping rocks, building tree forts, or riding your bike. Times have changed a lot since then; kids today are more isolated and indoor-oriented than ever. And, as a host of new studies show, this collective “nature deficit” is taking a steep toll on children’s health.
The National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) recently compiled statistics from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other medical associations. The conclusion? Spending time in nature makes children healthier—and spending too much time inside makes them sicker.
Kids today enjoy 25 percent less playtime and 50 percent less unstructured outdoor activity than their peers in recent decades. As a result, says NEEF, their health is suffering—more than 1 in 3 children in the U.S. are overweight or obese; 3,600 are diagnosed each year with type-2 diabetes; 7 million suffer from asthma; and countless others from attention-deficit disorders.
NEEF posits that the solution is obvious: get kids moving outside. The Foundation concluded that time spent outdoors is predictive of higher levels of physical activity in children. In fact, children who spend more time outdoors are less likely to be overweight by up to 41 percent.
Weight control and weight-related disease prevention aren’t the only benefits of outdoor exercise. Exposure to nature can reduce children’s stress levels by as much as 28 percent and a 20-minute walk in nature can help kids with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD concentrate better.
Parks for People
Children living within 2/3 mile of a park with a playground can be five times more likely to maintain a healthy weight. Unfortunately, many city-dwelling kids, especially those from low-income families, don’t live within a realistic walk of a park or open space.
At The Trust for Public Land, we believe that every child has the right to a healthy and active life. That’s why we’re working towards a day where every American, and especially every child, lives within a 10-minute walk to a safe, green place to play and enjoy nature. It’s time to put parks within easy reach of our kids and encourage them to get outside. It just may save their lives.
Learn more about our Parks for People program.