Opinion

People developing deficit disorder from not relating to nature

Recently the CBC had some coverage of a phenomenon called nature deficit disorder (NDD).

The acronym is reminiscent of some of the names we have chosen for various psychiatric diagnoses and it caught my attention.

NDD is not an official disorder or diagnosis in any medical terminology.

It is a name given to describe what some see to be the growing disconnect between humans (particularly children) and nature.

Richard Louv is a journalist and non-fiction writer who coined the term NDD in 2005 and he has written a couple of books about it, his most famous being Last Child in the Woods.

He says evidence points to a relationship between decreasing time spent in nature with an increase in conditions such as depression and ADHD in children.

These days, children seem to spend a lot less time engaged in simple imaginative play outside.

More and more people live in urban centres where access to green space may not be as readily at hand as it was for previous generations.

Parents are also increasingly fearful of letting children stray too far for fear of what may happen.

Instead of sending children to roam outside, kids are put in highly organized activities (often indoors). And of course the lure of our electronic devices is likely one of the biggest culprits keeping kids inside more than they were in the past.

Some estimates say Canadian kids are spending an average of more than 40 hours a week engaged with media compared to about eight hours of physical activity—with not all of that occurring outside.

Aside from the increased incidence of childhood obesity linked to a more sedentary lifestyle, some evidence is also showing time in nature is an independent factor for health benefits.

I wrote about the positive mental health effects of time spent in nature a few weeks ago.

Louv and others concerned about NDD are advocating for schools to mandate outdoor activity time as a part of school curriculum.

They believe the benefits will include healthier, happier kids with fewer attention problems and improved cognitive functioning.

Research will continue into this subject to quantify benefits and negative outcomes related to the amount of time we spend in nature.

It will certainly take some time before schools adopt formal programs to ensure kids are getting outside every day.

In the meantime, families can take simple, free steps to increase their own time outside.

We are fortunate to live in one of the most naturally beautiful places imaginable.

There are parks everywhere and nature crowds in around us on all sides.

Truly, there are activities for any taste with our beautiful lakes, rivers, mountains and forests.

I encourage you to get out and enjoy what our region has to offer.

It may be good for your physical and mental health—and you’ll probably have fun in the meantime too.

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