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A Little Nature Benefits Children

Researchers say being exposed to green space is a cure for many ills, especially when it comes to children. (Veronica Carter)
Researchers say being exposed to green space is a cure for many ills, especially when it comes to children. (Veronica Carter)
March 23, 2016

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – As the weather warms up, birds chirp and flowers bloom, don't forget to take some time to enjoy what Mother Nature has to offer. Research shows it can make you feel better, inside and out.

Since 2001, Dr. Frances Kuo has published articles on the benefits of green space. As director of the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois, she says people are instinctively drawn to places where their ancestors thrived, but the current obsession with electronic devices, poor urban planning and disappearing open space mean most folks are spending less time outdoors.

According to Kuo, it is especially important for children to be exposed to greenery, and one of her latest research projects found symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) were reduced by using nature as a prescription.

"What we see is, immediately after spending time in a green space, a child's ADHD symptoms might be temporarily reduced," says Kuo, "and we also see that kids who spend time in green spaces generally have milder symptoms."

Kuo says the study found outdoor time has a similar effect on children no matter their socioeconomic background.

She adds city planners need to keep that in mind when designing living spaces, particularly public housing. She says tree-lined streets, grass, gardens and parks need to be included - because for some children, it's their only exposure to the outdoors.

Kuo says being exposed to greenery also reduces anger, aggression and violence.

"Greener neighborhoods tend to have stronger social ties among neighbors," she says. "They have lower levels of crime – including violent crime as well as property crimes – partly because people tend to use their outdoor spaces, and that introduces a kind of informal surveillance."

Kuo adds exposure to green space goes even further. Her research also links the lack of it to obesity, some infectious and respiratory diseases, cancer, cardiovascular disease, migraines, depression and anxiety.

At Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., which also has a facility in Annapolis, a 7,200-square-foot rooftop garden is being installed with outlets, that will accommodate hospital beds for children.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MD