Nature Deficit Disorder Has Real Consequences
Our family practice doctors in Delray Beach will admit that the term “nature deficit disorder” cannot be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). But after we tell you about it, you may agree that it has real-life consequences for humans, especially children.
The condition has to do with the way we evolved—in the woods, the savannah, the plains—as opposed to how we live now: in concrete and glass buildings, sealed off from even passing interaction with nature.
Deep cultural change
Author Richard Louv coined the phrase in his 2005 book “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.” In it, he argued that elements of our urbanized lifestyle, including few natural spaces, a car-focused culture, more screen time, changes in the perception of risk (e.g., “stranger danger”), less leisure time, and increased time pressure from work or school, combine to decrease or even eliminate contact with nature for both adults and children, according the National Institutes for Health (NIH).
Think of it: Barely a generation ago, kids were free-roaming, allowed to play outdoors until sunset or later, until their parents called out the door that it was time to come in. They rode bikes around the neighborhood, played made-up games in the dark, and wandered alone or with friends on Saturdays for hours at a time.
It was an outer-focused life as opposed to the one we tend to live now, in which all our attention is concentrated on the tiny screens in our hands.
“The average young American now spends practically every minute—except for time in school—using a smartphone, computer, television, or electronic device,” Tamar Lewin reported in a Kaiser Family Foundation study on the subject.
Consequences in children and adults
According to the Children and Nature Network(C-NN), which was co-founded by Louv, an expanding body of scientific evidence suggest that nature-deficit disorder contributes to:
- diminished use of the senses
- attention difficulties
- conditions of obesity, and
- higher rates of emotional and physical illnesses.
Since the publication of Louv’s book, numerous studies have reinforced his contention that our increasing separation from nature has a real impact on our physical and mental well being.
An American Institutes for Research (AIR) study in 2005, for example, found that sixth-grade students who attended three outdoor education programs showed marked improvement in conflict resolution skills.
Another study in China in 2013 involved 60,000 children between the ages of two and 17. It showed that regular exposure to nature, or “greenness” around their schools, reduced the incidence of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A more recent study at the University of Illinois produced similar results.
Other research has linked the lack of time outdoors in children to:
- increased rates of obesity
- vitamin D deficiency
- higher levels of aggression
- increased rates of depression
- poor academic performance
- lower ability to cope with stress
- poor attention spans
- a lower sense of well being
Conversely, a meta-review of 143 other studies published in the journal Environmental Research found that people with access to green space generally had a slower heart rate, lower blood pressure, and fewer blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Researchers also found significantly fewer cases of diabetes and lower rates of mortality from heart disease in the nature-exposed group.
How to combat NDD
Because a lack of connection with nature has become built into our current lifestyles, the first step is to recognize the need for more interaction with the outdoors. Here are some steps you can take to increase your and your children’s connection with nature.
- Schedule time
Our busy lives don’t leave much time for true relaxation, so we have to add free time to our schedules the same way we schedule everything else. Also, encourage your children to play outdoors on their own whenever possible.
- Seek out nature
We’re fortunate here in Delray Beach to have the ocean so close by. Evening or weekend strolls along the beach offer a perfect opportunity to relax and observe the variety of sea life on the shore. In addition, seek out nearby parks, trails, and green spaces in your neighborhood that your children can explore.
- Take nature-centered vacations
Camping trips, national parks, and wilderness vacations all provide a chance for you and your family to slow down and examine the flora and fauna native to the area.
- Become an advocate
Join the board of your homeowner’s association (HOA) to encourage more natural elements in your neighborhood. Advocate at your children’s school for more exposure to nature, both in their surroundings (like the playground) and in the curriculum.
And talk to us if you have any questions about NDD.