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Attention Iowa Kids: Outdoor Time "Needed"

June 4, 2009

Des Moines, IA – One hour a day outside is the prescription for condition some say is afflicting millions of children this summer - Nature Deficit Disorder. It's a term invented by an author, and used by many, including the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), to describe the condition of too-little outdoor activity and the emotional and behavioral impacts that has on children.

NWF hopes to coax children to spend more time outdoors in nature, whether that be at school, daycare, or at home, with its Be Out There campaign. Most any activity would do, from skipping rope to playing catch, or just wandering around outside.

Kevin Coyle, NWF's vice president for education and training, says the digital age is one reason young people spend so much time inside, with some studies showing children spend six hours a day in front of the TV or a video screen.

"By not getting outside, they’re not engaging in relaxation, relating to other kids, and just getting some exercise. We’re really seeing that American childhood has moved indoors."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has linked a lack of outdoor activity to increased childhood obesity. Coyle points to progress with the introduction of a bill in Congress called the No Child Left Inside Act, which would fund environmental education outdoor programs. There are other ways to help expand outdoor time for kids, as well, he adds.

"One way is to increase the amount of focus in daycare centers on outdoor time for children – to return recess to schools."

The term, Nature Deficit Disorder, was coined by journalist Richard Louv, who's 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, argues children have become alienated from nature, which has had disastrous affects on their physical fitness, as well as their long-term mental and spiritual heath. He acknowledges many parents have restricted their children from playing in the woods due to rare - but high-profile - cases of abductions.

For parents concerned about safety, Coyle suggests scheduling outings to playgrounds and group outdoor play dates to help alleviate fears about child abductions.

Dick Layman, Public News Service - IA