Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Guest Blog #2 Dr. Sean Haney on Nature Deficiency Syndrome

Guest Blog #2 Dr. Sean Haney, Kaiser Permanente

Richard Louv popularized the concept of the “nature deficiency syndrome” in his 2006 book, Last Child in the Woods.  His concept is essentially that children are no longer experiencing nature as they once had. This in turn has contributed to the increase in childhood obesity and attention deficit disorder.  The concept is interesting and thought provoking.

I am no expert on this specific research field but knowing a fair amount about how research is done, I suspect that this might be difficult to prove.  From anecdotal evidence (that is a fancy way of saying “in my experience”), children do not seem to experience nature as they once did.  By “nature” I don’t mean Yosemite or Rocky Mountain National Park.  Families took vacations to these wonderful parks and still do.   The nature which kids are not exploring as they once did is actually the nearby open field, creek or hillside.  I remember growing up in an area where the hills had not yet been built upon.  We used the trails, peaks, gulches as our exploration ground, physically and imaginatively.  We rode our bikes, fought dragons, rescued maidens and killed monsters.

The reason for the loss of this connection to nature maybe loss of environment, safety concerns for the children and alternative choices regarding use of free time.
So, instead of being outside exploring and experience the outdoors or parks, our children are spending a lot more time in front of electronic screens and in organized play dates and not free exploration of hillsides and open fields.

The effect of the nature deficit disorder per Lovu is an increase in attention deficit disorder (ADD), mood disorders and obesity.  ADD and mood disorders may be more prevalent because we have more sensitive screening tools now and not necessarily for other reasons.  An increase in childhood obesity is well documented. Causation is difficult to prove.

Will reconnecting with nature diminish the effects of the purported nature deficiency syndrome?  I don’t know.  I believe that reconnecting our children to nature is important for many reasons.   They may enjoy the experience tremendously and it may get them out from the screens that take so much of their time.  One day they will grow up and vote (hopefully) and if they think back fondly on their experiences outdoors in out parks or open fields, hill sides and creeks, they may wish to protect these spaces for their own children.  If getting kids outside helps prevent nature deficiency syndrome and all that accompanies it, then great.  Regardless, kids should be discovering trails and bugs while slaying dragons and rescuing fair damsels from evil knights.

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