Depression, obesity, and behavioral problems are caused by lack of outdoor activity, claim a growing movement of academics and healthcare professionals. The campaigners are demanding that exposure to nature be used as a medical treatment.
”The body of evidence keeps expanding that inactivity can have repercussions as severe as smoking”, US writer Richard Louv, chairman of the Children & Nature Network and inventor of the term ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’, told Metro. ”But we should focus on the benefits - cognitive function improves with exposure to nature, as do Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) symptoms.”
A range of independent studies – including from Unicef - indicate that engagement with nature can have a dramatic impact on stress and happiness levels. The benefits of outdoor pursuits were also highlighted by 2012 figures from medical journal The Lancet that showed 5.3 million people worldwide die each year through inactivity – a similar total to smoking.
”We’re not blaming anyone but it’s time to look at solutions now, especially for children”, said Mike Collins of Britain’s National Trust, which is launching a new campaign backed by hospitals and schools to promote engagement with nature. “Access to green space is critical, and we want doctors to have the freedom to prescribe active treatments – such as regular walks in depression cases.”
But despite the campaign, no medical authority has been willing to recognize NDD as a disorder and the term has been criticized. ”It could be considered a phoney syndrome”, chartered psychologist Dr. Katie Sparks said. Sparks acknowledged that nature had a positive impact on stress, but added ”People’s problems can be made worse by creating labels”.