HEALTH – There is growing evidence of the physical and mental health benefits of contact with nature, as outlined earlier in this report. Spending time in nature is free, requires no special equipment, is something that nearly everyone can do and offers not only the opportunity for increased physical activity, but also stress relief and experiential learning. That makes it a perfect fit for initiatives aimed at improving public health. These strategies will advance public health priorities while increasing the amount of time children spend in the natural world:
Strategy #1: Educate health care professionals about the importance of nature to healthy childhood development.
Health care providers, from pediatricians to school nurses and health insurers, have greater influence than any other group in informing the public about health issues. In fact, findings from the American Medical Association and the American College of Sports Medicine are that two-thirds of patients indicated that they would be more likely to exercise if told to do so by a physician. (www. exerciseismedicine.org).
Nationally, health care professionals are being educated on this topic through keynote speeches to professional associations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of School Nurses. The Children & Nature Network recently published a compilation of annotated research summaries specifically addressing health in their “Health Benefits to Children from Contact with the Outdoors and Nature”, which is available at C&NNHealthBenefits.pdf, making it easier for busy health professionals to learn about emerging research. And recently, the topic of health has been added to the America’s Great Outdoors listening sessions, where health professionals are being invited to share in a conversation about “turning the tide” in human health and the health of our planet. Here in Ohio, the Ohio Leave No Child Inside Collaboratives has begun work on a matrix of the organizations in Ohio which are working toward healthier children. The Collaboratives are developing a plan to make these organizations aware of research and resources on this topic. Some of these resources for health care professionals are already available on the website.
- NEEF Health Professionals Initiative:
The National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), which has a long history of working with health professionals, has a Health Care Provider Initiative on Children & Nature. In addition to educating health care providers, this program offers “train the trainer” workshops where pediatricians learn to train others in their community, using resources like a Children’s Health and Nature Fact Sheet and nature prescription pads. Educating the health care community about the existence of these and other materials will be an important element of the Public Awareness Campaign, with an expansion of resources available on the website.
- Walk With a Doc:
The doctors of Nationwide Children’s Hospital can often be found in Columbus area parks on Saturday mornings, walking with a group of families as part of the “Walk With a Doc” program. The mission of this national program is to encourage healthy physical activity in people of all ages, and reverse the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle in order to improve the health and well-being of the country.
“Outdoor activity is a major missing link in the health and wellness of our patients. During visits, we are asking parents to get children outside to play. Walk with a Doc allows us to get out in nature and get personally involved in keeping families well.”
– Wendy Anderson-Willis, MD
FAAP Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Columbus, Ohio