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Nature-deficit disorder: What kids lose by not experiencing the outdoors enough
Research explains the positive impact and health benefits of children spending more time in nature.
- "Nature-deficit disorder" is the term coined by author Richard Louv, to help put a name to the ever-growing problems associated with children spending less time in nature.
- Research has provided evidence that prove Richard Louv's theories on the importance of nature to the human body and mind. This research proves a link between time spent in nature and improvements in areas such as motivation, problem-solving and self-esteem.
- There are many simple, actionable ways parents and educators of young children can incorporate nature back into the lives of children both in school and at home, such as starting outdoor playgroups or reintegrating nature into the school curriculum.
"Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart." - Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods
The term "Nature-Deficit Disorder" was coined by Richard Louv, not to serve as a medical diagnosis, but to give meaning to a significant problem in modern society - the human costs of alienating ourselves from nature. There is an ever-growing gap between human beings and nature due to open green space being urbanized and large advancements in technology.
Since the term was coined in Louv's 2005 publication "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder", it has been used as a rallying point for a movement called the New Nature Movement that strives to reconnect children to nature and educate people on the health benefits nature can have on the human mind and body.
What do our children lose by not experiencing enough nature?
Multiple research studies have proven the positive impacts time spent in nature has on the growing mind and body.
Many intriguing studies on this topic provide profound insight into what children are missing by not experiencing enough nature.
To summarize, a lack of vitamin D, increased symptoms of mental health conditions such as ADHD and a lack of motivation among children who spend less time in nature are among the key concerns of researchers who support Richard Louv's theory.
An important 2008 study by Susanna Huh and Catherine Gordon has suggested a strong link between the decline in outdoor activities and the dramatic rise in vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D, which our bodies produce as a response to sun exposure, is essential for maintaining healthy bones and teeth and can also protect against diseases such as type 1 diabetes.
According to Louv: "Time in nature is not leisure time; it's an essential investment in our children's health (and also, by the way, in our own)."
Researchers have gathered evidence that proves exposure to nature is important to the physical and mental health of children
The American Institutes for Research (AIR) conducted another study in 2005 that focused on 255 sixth-grade students from elementary schools across California. These students attended three outdoor education programs between the months of September and November.
The study evaluated the children across eight different constructs: self-esteem, cooperation, conflict resolution, leadership, relationship with peers, problem-solving ability, motivation to learn and overall behavior in class.
The children were split into two camps: One group of students did the outdoor schooling sessions first, and the other group was used as a baseline and would do the same outdoor schooling sessions after the first program had finished.
Ten weeks after the first study concluded, the positive change in the children was very obviously noted in the post-experiment surveys, with the children who attended the outdoor schooling sessions first showing large improvements in the area of conflict resolution.
The remaining group of children who had not yet completed the outdoor schooling sessions scored significantly lower across 7 of the 8 constructs that were being measured.
The teachers of the children were also asked to submit surveys (separate from the surveys done by the researchers) about the children before and after the experiment. According to the before and after remarks of the teachers, the children who attended outdoor schooling in the first camp showed significant positive gains in the areas of self-esteem, problem-solving, motivation to learn, and behavior in class.
Along with these findings, it was also discovered that the students who attended the outdoor training sessions raised their grades in the science department by up to 27% (according to the pre-survey and post-survey answers). This increase in grades was maintained for up to 10 weeks following the program.
Another study, this time conducted in northeastern China in 2013, further supports the importance of nature in children's lives. This time, the study focused on the association between green-spaces that surrounded schools and the mental health condition of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Data for this particular study came from measuring the green spaces around the schools and two reports given at different times from the parents regarding potential ADHD symptoms in their children.
This data was collected over a span of 10 months and showed results from seven different cities. The study included almost 60,000 children between the ages of 2 and 17, from 94 schools around the country.
The results of this study showed that the levels of green-ness were linked to the incidence of ADHD behavior/symptoms in the children. Greater greenness levels around the school were significantly linked with lower odds of ADHD symptoms present in the children of that school.
How parents (and educators) can easily and affordably reconnect children with nature
There are many easy and affordable ways you can incorporate nature back into your child's life.
The urbanization of society and advances in technology (among other things) have made nature less accessible to our children. However, Richard Louv (and the researchers who have supported his theories) aren't just proving there is a problem - they are also providing communities ways to leap into action.
Parents who are looking for actionable ways to involve nature in their children's lives can do more than just let their children play outside an hour extra a day. Parents can push to become more involved in movements that place importance on nature-learning for kids, such as the Leave No Child Inside movement that has sprung up all over the United States and Canada.
Simple things such as starting an outdoor club with other parents who are interested in maintaining the connection between human beings and nature can be extremely beneficial. In Omaha, for example, a parent-lead association was created by 5 families that offer hands-on, nature-based play activities for children.
If you're an educator, one of the best things you can do to stop the ever-growing gap between our children and nature is to educate yourselves on the cognitive (and other) health benefits of allowing children to have more interactions in nature. Then share that knowledge with not just your students, but other educators as well.The Children & Nature Network site is one of the best resources for re-integrating nature back into the lives of our children, offering links to many different research papers that give you information on the benefits of unstructured outdoor play to whole curriculums that can be based on outdoor learning.
"What would our lives be like if our days and nights were as immersed in nature as they are in technology?"
- Richard Louv, The Nature Principle
- Scientists link sense of smell and sense of direction - Big Think ›
- Dealing with the emotional consequences of climate change - Big ... ›
- Ecotherapy: exploring the many health benefits of nature - Big Think ›
- Children's mental health: CDC study with surprising results - Big Think ›
- Vitamin D may lower risk of contracting COVID-19, says new research - Big Think ›
- Experiencing nature on TV/VR boosts wellbeing, study finds - Big Think ›
The COVID-19 pandemic is making health disparities in the United States crystal clear. It is a clarion call for health care systems to double their efforts in vulnerable communities.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated America's health disparities, widening the divide between the haves and have nots.
- Studies show disparities in wealth, race, and online access have disproportionately harmed underserved U.S. communities during the pandemic.
- To begin curing this social aliment, health systems like Northwell Health are establishing relationships of trust in these communities so that the post-COVID world looks different than the pre-COVID one.
COVID-19 deepens U.S. health disparities<p>Communities on the pernicious side of America's health disparities have their unique histories, environments, and social structures. They are spread across the United States, but they all have one thing in common.</p><p>"There is one common divide in American communities, and that is poverty," said <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/about/leadership/debbie-salas-lopez" target="_blank">Debbie Salas-Lopez, MD, MPH</a>, senior vice president of community and population health at Northwell Health. "That is the undercurrent that manifests poor health, poor health outcomes, or poor health prognoses for future wellbeing."</p><p>Social determinants have far-reaching effects on health, and poor communities have unfavorable social determinants. To pick one of many examples, <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/27/913612554/a-crisis-within-a-crisis-food-insecurity-and-covid-19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">food insecurity</a> reduces access to quality food, leading to poor health and communal endemics of chronic medical conditions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified some of these conditions, such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes, as increasing the risk of developing a severe case of coronavirus.</p><p>The pandemic didn't create poverty or food insecurity, but it exacerbated both, and the results have been catastrophic. A study published this summer in the <em><a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05971-3" target="_blank">Journal of General Internal Medicine</a></em> suggested that "social factors such as income inequality may explain why some parts of the USA are hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than others."</p><p>That's not to say better-off families in the U.S. weren't harmed. A <a href="https://voxeu.org/article/poverty-inequality-and-covid-19-us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper from the Centre for Economic Policy Research</a> noted that families in counties with a higher median income experienced adjustment costs associated with the pandemic—for example, lowering income-earning interactions to align with social distancing policies. However, the paper found that the costs of social distancing were much greater for poorer families, who cannot easily alter their living circumstances, which often include more individuals living in one home and a reliance on mass transit to reach work and grocery stores. They are also disproportionately represented in essential jobs, such as retail, transportation, and health care, where maintaining physical distance can be all but impossible.</p><p>The paper also cited a positive correlation between higher income inequality and higher rates of coronavirus infection. "Our interpretation is that poorer people are less able to protect themselves, which leads them to different choices—they face a steeper trade-off between their health and their economic welfare in the context of the threats posed by COVID-19," the authors wrote.</p><p>"There are so many pandemics that this pandemic has exacerbated," Dr. Salas-Lopez noted.</p><p>One example is the health-wealth gap. The mental stressors of maintaining a low socioeconomic status, especially in the face of extreme affluence, can have a physically degrading impact on health. <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/index.cfm/_api/render/file/?method=inline&fileID=123ECD96-EF81-46F6-983D2AE9A45FA354" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Writing on this gap</a>, Robert Sapolsky, professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, notes that socioeconomic stressors can increase blood pressure, reduce insulin response, increase chronic inflammation, and impair the prefrontal cortex and other brain functions through anxiety, depression, and cognitive load. </p><p>"Thus, from the macro level of entire body systems to the micro level of individual chromosomes, poverty finds a way to produce wear and tear," Sapolsky writes. "It is outrageous that if children are born into the wrong family, they will be predisposed toward poor health by the time they start to learn the alphabet."</p>Research on the economic and mental health fallout of COVID-19 is showing two things: That unemployment is hitting <a href="https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/09/24/economic-fallout-from-covid-19-continues-to-hit-lower-income-americans-the-hardest/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">low-income and young Americans</a> most during the pandemic, potentially widening the health-wealth gap further; and that the pandemic not only exacerbates mental health stressors, but is doing so at clinically relevant levels. As <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7413844/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the authors of one review</a> wrote, the pandemic's effects on mental health is itself an international public health priority.
Working to close the health gap<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc5MDk1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTYyMzQzMn0.KSFpXH7yHYrfVPtfgcxZqAHHYzCnC2bFxwSrJqBbH4I/img.jpg?width=980" id="b40e2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1b9035370ab7b02a0dc00758e494412b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Northwell Health coronavirus testing center at Greater Springfield Community Church.
Credit: Northwell Health<p>Novel coronavirus may spread and infect indiscriminately, but pre-existing conditions, environmental stressors, and a lack of access to care and resources increase the risk of infection. These social determinants make the pandemic more dangerous, and erode communities' and families' abilities to heal from health crises that pre-date the pandemic.</p><p>How do we eliminate these divides? Dr. Salas-Lopez says the first step is recognition. "We have to open our eyes to see the suffering around us," she said. "Northwell has not shied away from that."</p><p>"We are steadfast in improving health outcomes for our vulnerable and underrepresented communities that have suffered because of the prevalence of chronic disease, a problem that led to the disproportionately higher death rate among African-Americans and Latinos during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Michael Dowling, Northwell's president and CEO. "We are committed to using every tool at our disposal—as a provider of health care, employer, purchaser and investor—to combat disparities and ensure the <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/education-and-resources/community-engagement/center-for-equity-of-care" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">equity of care</a> that everyone deserves." </p><p>With the need recognized, Dr. Salas-Lopez calls for health care systems to travel upstream and be proactive in those hard-hit communities. This requires health care systems to play a strong role, but not a unilateral one. They must build <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/news/insights/faith-based-leaders-are-the-key-to-improving-community-health" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">partnerships with leaders in those communities</a> and utilize those to ensure relationships last beyond the current crisis. </p><p>"We must meet with community leaders and talk to them to get their perspective on what they believe the community needs are and should be for the future. Together, we can co-create a plan to measurably improve [community] health and also to be ready for whatever comes next," she said.</p><p>Northwell has built relationships with local faith-based and community organizations in underserved communities of color. Those partnerships enabled Northwell to test more than 65,000 people across the metro New York region. The health system also offered education on coronavirus and precautions to curb its spread.</p><p>These initiatives began the process of building trust—trust that Northwell has counted on to return to these communities to administer flu vaccines to prepare for what experts fear may be a difficult flu season.</p><p>While Northwell has begun building bridges across the divides of the New York area, much will still need to be done to cure U.S. health care overall. There is hope that the COVID pandemic will awaken us to the deep disparities in the US.</p><p>"COVID has changed our world. We have to seize this opportunity, this pandemic, this crisis to do better," Dr. Salas-Lopez said. "Provide better care. Provide better health. Be better partners. Be better community citizens. And treat each other with respect and dignity.</p><p>"We need to find ways to unify this country because we're all human beings. We're all created equal, and we believe that health is one of those important rights."</p>
What’s Eminem doing in Missouri? Kanye West in Georgia? And Wiz Khalifa in, of all places, North Dakota?
This is a mysterious map. Obviously about music, or more precisely musicians. But what’s Eminem doing in Missouri? Kanye West in Georgia? And Wiz Khalifa in, of all places, North Dakota? None of these musicians are from those states! Everyone knows that! Is this map that stupid, or just looking for a fight? Let’s pause a moment and consider our attention spans, shrinking faster than polar ice caps.
Can passenger airships make a triumphantly 'green' comeback?
Large airships were too sensitive to wind gusts and too sluggish to win against aeroplanes. But today, they have a chance to make a spectacular return.
Vegans and vegetarians often have nutrient deficiencies and lower BMI, which can increase the risk of fractures.
- The study found that vegans were 43% more likely to suffer fractures than meat eaters.
- Similar results were observed for vegetarians and fish eaters, though to a lesser extent.
- It's possible to be healthy on a vegan diet, though it takes some strategic planning to compensate for the nutrients that a plant-based diet can't easily provide.
Comparison of fracture cases by diet group
Credit: Tong et al.<p>The results showed that vegans were especially vulnerable to hip fractures, suffering 2.3 times more cases than meat-eaters. Vegetarians and pescatarians were also more likely to suffer hip fractures, though to a lesser extent.</p><p>One explanation may be that non-meat eaters consume less calcium and protein. Calcium helps the body build strong bones, particularly before age 30, after which the body begins to lose bone mineral density (though consuming enough calcium through diet or supplement can <a href="https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-Consumer/" target="_blank">help offset losses</a>). Lower bone mineral density means higher risk of fracture.</p><p>Protein seems to help the body absorb calcium, <a href="https://www.bonejoint.net/blog/did-you-know-that-certain-foods-block-calcium-absorption/#:~:text=Historically%2C%20nutritionists%20have%20warned%20that,may%20increase%20intestinal%20calcium%20absorption." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">when consumed in normal levels</a>. The recent study, along with past research, shows that people who don't eat meat tend to have lower levels of both protein and calcium. When the researchers accounted for non-meat eaters who supplemented their diets with calcium and protein, fracture risk decreased, but still remained significant.</p>
Credit: Pixabay<p>Another explanation is body mass index (BMI). Non-meat eaters tend to have a lower BMI, which is associated with higher fracture risk, particularly hip fractures. In the new study, vegans with a low BMI were especially likely to suffer hip fractures. That might be because having more body mass provides a cushioning effect when people fall.</p><p>Still, the study has some limitations. For one, White European women were overrepresented in the sample. The researchers also didn't collect precise data on the type of calcium or protein supplementation, diet quality or causes of fractures.</p><p>Another complicating factor: Producers of vegan products, such as plant-based milk, are increasingly fortifying foods with nutrients like calcium and protein, so modern vegans are potentially at lower risk of deficiency.</p><p>The researchers wrote that their findings "suggest that bone health in vegans requires further research."</p>