The idea that a prescription is necessary to get some children to go out and play is unfortunate on one level. But, taken another way, it serves as an indicator of the growing awareness among health professionals of the important role that nature contact plays in the health of children.
American Academy of Pediatrics members will hear about the role of nature in children’s health on October 2, when Richard Louv will give the keynote speech at their annual conference in San Francisco. The AAP has recognized that:
Helping children connect with nature to improve their mental and physical health is a growing movement.
Louv, who will address Nature-Deficit Disorder, said, “I’m careful not to represent nature-deficit disorder as a known medical diagnosis. But the phrase has proven to be useful shorthand for what many of us felt was going on, but had no words for, which is the generational disconnection with nature.
This has implications for our children’s mental and physical health, their ability to learn and our future relationship with the natural world—in terms of our willingness to care for it.
“Pediatricians are especially important,” Louv continued. “I do hope pediatricians as individuals will use their best judgment when suggesting to families that they go outside and spend time in nature, for health and happiness.”
This event highlights the growing awareness of nature’s health benefits among health care providers and policy makers. It also coincides with new regional and national initiatives aimed at engaging this key sector of the Children & Nature movement.
On the heels of the signing of the Ohio Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights by Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, The Ohio Leave No Child Inside Coalition recently recognized Dr. Wendy Anderson-Willis, a pediatrician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, for her efforts that include prescribing a daily hour of outdoor play to many of her patients. According to Anderson-Willis:
I think it’s the right of every child to play outside and it’s the job of the adults to create a world where this is possible.
The National Environmental Education Foundation recently announced its Children and Nature Initiative, which is holding a series of workshops to prepare pediatric health care providers to serve as nature champions in their communities. Each new champion will train 30 peers to prescribe outdoor activities for health. The program is expected to educate approximately 1,200 health care providers within two years. The program, which counts U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Audubon Society, and others as partners, will also connect health care providers with local nature sites, so that they can refer families to safe and easily accessible outdoor areas.
Baltimore pediatrician Dr. Maria Brown is one of the health care professionals participating in the program by prescribing outdoor activities for health. San Francisco physician Dr. Daphne Miller explains why she advocates prescribing nature for health.
The NEEF Initiative is grounded in science, much of which can be found in the Children & Nature Network‘s synthesis of selected research and studies on Health Benefits to Children From Contact with the Outdoors and Nature.