Like many things, the interaction of our children with the world around them can be looked at as a glass that can be viewed either as “half empty” or “half full.” While we may have seen the statistics about the “nature deficit disorder” in our children, many of us may not have come across the research numbers that show how we may solve these problems, both here in Arlington and throughout the country.
As detailed in a recent article in “Saving Land,” a publication of the Land Trust Alliance, there is plenty of bad news out there. For example, more than one in three children in the U.S. are overweight or obese and minority and low income children are disproportionately affected. According to the article, each year, 3,600 youth are diagnosed with type-2 diabetes, for which obesity is a major risk factor. Moreover, children have lost 25% of playtime and 50% of unstructured outdoor activity over recent decades.
On the positive side, that same article describes the research that points us in the direction of a solution to these problems. Exposure to nature can reduce stress levels by as much as 25% in children. Children living within 2/3 of a mile of a park with a playground can be 5 times more likely to have a healthy weight. Even a 20-minute walk in nature can help children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder concentrate better, the article says.
Think back to your own youth. Wasn’t there a special place close to your home that you would walk or bike to and where you could just interact with nature? Didn’t you enjoy the benefits of playtime and unstructured outdoor activities? As a result of these experiences, my guess is that you probably had lower stress levels than our children do today. Moreover, you were probably not obese as a child and were not diagnosed with type-2 diabetes either.
Our children need that same access to the outdoors in order to grow up as healthy individuals. We know the problem and we have documented the solution. Let’s make it happen.
Mike Nardolilli serves as President of the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust, President of the Arlington Outdoor Lab, and as a Member of the Board of Directors of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.