Research Summary

Using nature and outdoor activity to improve children's health

Being physically active outdoors and in nature can improve children's health

Many children in the U.S. today have chronic health conditions such as obesity, asthma, and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. The authors note that while considerable improvements have been made in pediatric health, there has been a simultaneous increase in chronic diseases affecting children, and disproportionately affecting low-income and minority children and youth. At the same time, there has been an increase in the number of studies that associate positive benefits for children’s health and well-being from time spent outdoors in nature. The authors suggest, “More focus is needed on sustainable, long-term prevention methods that promote healthy lifestyle changes,” and “More emphasis on promotion of outdoor activity in nature is needed in children’s health care.” The purpose of this article was to provide a summary of the current literature related to these issues.

McCurdy and colleagues review the current status of children's health, including children's physical inactivity; increasing obesity; the prevalence of obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes and hypertension; vitamin D deficiency; and mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety. The authors then review evidence regarding the benefits of physical activity, and in particular physical activity outdoors and in natural environments. In addition, the authors discuss the benefits natural environments can have on children's mental health, as well as additional potential health benefits, including improving asthma and nearsightedness.

In concluding their article, McCurdy and colleagues examine the important role that pediatric health care providers play in the management of childhood obesity and other chronic health challenges. The authors review current guidance available to pediatricians and discuss an initiative of the National Environmental Education Foundation, The Children and Nature Initiative, which works with pediatric health care providers to increase the amount of time that children spend outside being physically active and in nature as a way to address chronic conditions and improve children's health.