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Nature contact and human health: A research agenda

Summary


A multidisciplinary team of scholars developed a research agenda to further the evidence of the health benefits of contact with nature

A multidisciplinary team of scholars met at the University of Washington to develop a research agenda for further investigations into the nature contact and human health association. Disciplines represented by the team included epidemiology, environmental health, clinical medicine, psychology, ecology, landscape architecture, urban studies, public policy, and anthropology. While recent research provides substantial evidence of the health benefits of nature contact, it’s clear that further research is needed to guide nature-related public-health interventions. The goal of this team was to provide direction for such research.

The team first studied published reviews and primary research reports of the nature–health connection and identified principal domains of research and key questions in which important questions remain unanswered. They then developed specific research priorities in each of the seven identified domains: a) mechanistic biomedical studies; b) exposure science; c) epidemiology of health benefits; d) diversity and equity considerations; e) technological nature; f) economic and policy studies; and g) implementation science. Research questions developed for each domain were based on scientific importance, tractability, and potential public health impact.

The team based their work on a broad definition of health to include physical and mental health, social well-being, academic and job performance, and happiness. Their report includes a list of twenty evidence-based health benefits of nature contact, which the authors refer to as “illustrative rather than exhaustive” to suggest that there may be additional health benefits of contact with nature.

The authors recognize that there are many forms of nature contact, varying by such factors as spatial and temporal scale, the sensory pathway through which nature is experienced (visual, auditory, etc.), the individual’s activities while engaged with nature, and level of awareness while in a natural setting. They note the need for researchers to define and operationalize the specific form of nature contact they are studying. They also call for a robust program of scientific research to generate evidence-based answers to key questions relating to each of the principal domains presented in this report. Answers to these questions are needed to guide health-related prevention efforts and intervention initiatives across a wide range of settings, populations, spatial scales, and forms of nature. The potential for improved health and well-being on a large-scale warrants investment in operationalizing the proposed research agenda.

Citation

Frumkin, H., Bratman, G.N., Breslow, S.J., Cockran, B., Kahn, P.H., Lawler, J.J., Levin, P.S., Tandon, P.S., Varanasi, U., Wolf, K.L., Wood, S.A., (2017). Nature contact and human health: A research agenda. Environmental Health Perspectives

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