Most of us have childhood memories of summer evenings at our grandparents’ farm, riding our bikes through the woods at the end of our block, or discovering a “new” species of butterfly along our neighborhood creek. For the most part, our connection to nature and love of God’s creation stems from such explorations and adventures. However, in our increasingly scheduled and urbanized way of life, our children are exposed to fewer and fewer opportunities to experience nature on their terms. Moreover, there are many children in our communities that do not have the opportunity to easily and safely access open spaces and natural areas.
The current generation of children spends much less time outdoors (and much more time in front of an electronic screen) than in the past. At the same time diseases such as diabetes and obesity are reaching epidemic levels, air pollution from auto travel continues to plague our neighborhoods, and our children’s knowledge of how food grows is decreasing.
In his book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv brings new attention to this issue and coins the term, nature-deficit disorder, which describes how and why children have become increasingly alienated from nature. He cites a growing body of research that has linked the lack of nature to obesity and developmental and mental disorders like attention-deficit disorders and depression. Play in natural environments can have positive benefits for our children, while the lack of a tradition of outdoor play and exploration can result in considerable harm to them as well. The rate of obese children in Texas doubled in the past 20 years and continues to rise. If current trends continue, the annual cost of addressing weight-related health issues will exceed $15.6 billion in 2010 and $39 billion by 2040, according to the Texas Interagency Obesity Council. Getting kids re-connected with nature should be a priority in Texas where over 40 percent of out 4th graders are overweight or obese. Studies have shown how early and continual exposure to nature has emerged as promising way to reverse childhood maladies, and promote a robust intellectual, spiritual, and physical adulthood.
• Children are 6 times more likely to play a video game than ride a bike.
• Only 1 in 5 children walk or ride a bike to school, yet 71% of adults reported they walked or rode a bike to school.
• In Texas, as we becoming increasingly urban, we are seeing a decline in the percentage of the population hunting, camping, fishing, and spending time outdoors.
• Childhood obesity rate in 1960 was 4%; today, the national average is over 18% (JAMA; CDC).
• Our children may be the first generation at risk of having a shorter lifespan than their parents (Ludwig DS (2007). New England Journal of Medicine, 357(23): 2325-27).
• Fifty percent of youth are not physically active enough for the development of healthy cardiorespiratory systems (Hunter, Bamman, & Hester, 2000; Ross & Gilbert, 1985 USDHHS; Sothern et al., 1999).
• Chronic conditions such as childhood obesity, asthma, and attention-deficit disorder have all increased over the past few decades. (Perrin JM, Bloom SR & Gortmaker SL (2007). JAMA, 297(24): 2755-59.).
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