More than half of American adults report spending five hours or fewer outside in nature each week. Over three-quarters spend 10 or fewer hours outside each week. Contact with nature is an important part of growing up and linking Americans to one another, but competing priorities and other factors impede getting outdoors.
We are evolving generations of people where the norm is to spend very little time outdoors. Even when outdoors, it’s rare to see individuals that are device-free. Mothers walk their babies in strollers in the park—the mom is on her smartphone and the baby, looking at a video on an iPad. Parents of children 8 to 12 years old said that their children spend three times as many hours with computers and television each week as they do playing outside.
The Nature of Americans National Report: Disconnection and Recommendations for Reconnection reveals important insights from a study of nearly 12,000 adults, children (8 to 12 years old), and parents, and provides actionable recommendations to open the outdoors for all.
Americans encounter a number of society-wide forces disconnecting them from nature. Americans also face competing priorities for their time, attention, and money. They live in places that often have more concrete than green space. It is increasingly normal to spend little time outside.
Despite these challenges, there is opportunity. Americans of all backgrounds recognize that nature helps them grow healthy, be happy, and enjoy family and friends. Adults and children enjoy their time in nature. They feel affection for nature, are attracted to its beauty, appreciate its resources, and value its role in intellectual and spiritual development.
- Over three-quarters of adults rate contact with nature as very or extremely important for their physical health and emotional outlook.
- One-quarter of parents surveyed say contact with nature has improved their child’s weight, attention span, energy, anxiety, asthma or other health outcomes.
- Three-quarters of adults support increasing the number of programs for Americans to enjoy nature, the outdoors, and wildlife. More than one-half think programs for Americans to enjoy nature and wildlife are underfunded.
- Seven out of 10 children surveyed would rather explore woods and trees than play on neat-looking grass. Eight out of 10 like activities such as climbing trees and camping.
Restoring Americans’ connection to nature requires overcoming the gap between interest and action.
The Nature of Americans National Report details recommendations for restoring Americans’ connection to nature, including:
- Pay close attention to—and respond to—adults’ existing concerns about younger generations’ disconnection from nature.
- For adults and children, promote nature not only as a place for experiences, but also as a place for involvement and care.
- Assure adults and children that time in nature can be (and even ought to be) social.
- Support mentorship that extends beyond the parent–child relationship.
- Carefully consider how different sectors promote what “good” connection with nature is or ought to be.
- Deepen local experiences in nature near home.
- For children and adults, use geographically local or familiar activities as a bridge to geographically distant or unfamiliar activities.
- Provide socially safe and satisfying places outdoors, especially for urban and minority adults and children.
- Promote experiences in nature that match Americans’ multidimensional values of nature.
- For adults, promote conservation efforts as a way to improve their overall community and quality of life.
- Join parents, children, and adults alike in recognizing that expenditures on children’s engagement with nature are fundamentally important investments.
- Build partnerships among professionals in healthcare, education, urban planning, conservation, community development, and other sectors.
In writing about the report, Yale360 said, “In addition to the lure of technology, the study said that people are spending less time in nature because places where they work, live, and go to school generally do not encourage contact with the natural world and myriad competing priorities and activities push experiences in nature to the side. The study showed that minority groups and young adults faced more barriers to getting into nature than other groups.”
The core premise of these recommendations is that connection to nature is not a dispensable amenity, but rather, is essential to the health, economic prosperity, quality of life, and social well-being of all Americans.
The Nature of Americans is led by DJ Case & Associates. It builds on the late Dr. Stephen R. Kellert’s research on the importance of contact with nature to human well-being. This unique public–private collaborative is sponsored by the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Disney Conservation Fund, Morrison Family Foundation, Wildlife Management Institute, and Yale University.
May 1, 2017 NewTerrain.