Americans are spending less time outside than ever before, and it's contributing to a decreased understanding of and appreciation for the natural world. This increasing "nature deficit" is not only threatening America's long-standing conservation ethic, but has resulted in alarming child health issues.
Studies show that when children have time for unstructured play and interaction with nature, they benefit immensely. It helps increase understanding of their connection to nature, in addition to improved physical, mental and emotional health.
Our fight for the health of our planet and its people will not continue without the support of future generations.
Urge Acting U.S. Surgeon General Steven Galson to promote the benefits of daily outdoor play in nature for all children and families.
I urge you to issue a Surgeon General "Call to Action" to promote the health benefits of daily, unstructured outdoor play for children and families.
Regardless of age, being in nature helps us lower our stress levels, get exercise and relax our minds. For children, contact with green space and natural settings improves their ability to learn, hones their agility and balance and can significantly calm those with anxiety and mood disorders. And, a childhood connection with the outdoors can lead to a lifelong ethic of respect for a clean and healthy environment.
Today's kids and families are missing out on nature. Recent research shows that the amount of time U.S. children spend outside has declined by 50 percent in the last two decades alone! Meanwhile, the rate of childhood obesity has skyrocketed, and children now spend 44.5 hours a week in front of some type of electronic screen. We find this trend, which goes by the name, "nature-deficit" alarming. Unfortunately, many Americans are unaware of nature-deficit and the implications for their own health.
As America's chief health educator, we implore you to take action and begin educating all Americans about the health benefits of connecting with nature.
Fortunately, part of the solution to nature deficit exists already. We ask that you actively encourage children and their families to set aside time every day for a "green hour." This simple concept means kids would do what they have for millenia--engage in unstructured outdoor play and interact with nature. We urge you to take action on this pressing public health issue.
Burdette, Hillary L & Whitaker, Robert C. (2005). "Resurrecting Free Play in Young Children: Looking Beyond Fitness and Fatness to Attention, Affiliation, and Affect," Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 159: 46-50, http://archpedi.amaassn.org/cgi/content/abstract/159/1/46 (accessed Nov. 10, 2007).
Ginsberg, D. (2007). "The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds," Clinical Report, American Academy of Pediatrics, http://www.aap.org/pressroom/playFINAL.pdf (accessed Nov. 1, 2007).
Louv, Richard (2005). Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Algonquin Books of ChapelHill.
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