Attention Parents: Ask Yourself This Important Question…

Is your child getting outside enough? Why is this question so important? Because new compelling research demonstrates that when children are exposed to green space in childhood, they are much less likely to experience significant mental health issues later in life.

What caught our eye about this latest research is that it’s a huge study featuring one million people from the Danish Civil Registration System who were born between 1985 and 2003. The researchers looked at longitudinal mental health records, socioeconomic status, and the place of residence for each participant. Cool satellite data helped the researchers calculate how much vegetation was around each residence.

The researchers looked at 16 different mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder, anorexia, alcoholism, and depression. They also took into account other factors such as family history. They found that risk for mental illness was 55% higher for those who did not live near green space compared to those who lived with the highest amount of greenery. And this result was true even after they adjusted for parental history of mental illness and socioeconomic factors (thinking that higher income may mean more green space).

“Green space seemed to have an association that was similar in strength to other known influences on mental health like history of mental health disorders in the family or socioeconomic status,” said lead researcher Kristine Engemann, PhD. And the best part is that the more time spent outdoors near greenery, the lower the risk of mental health problems as the child ages.

“If we were talking about a new medicine that had this kind of effect, the buzz would be huge, but these results suggest that being able to go for a walk in a park as a kid is just as impactful,” said Kelly Lambert, PhD, a neuroscientist at the University of Richmond. We couldn’t agree more!

Enjoying nature is a huge part of the iTHRIVE Plan. This latest study gives all of us—especially kids—another great reason to adopt this philosophy on a consistent basis. OK, parents, it’s time to get those kids outside…and don’t forget to join them!

Engemann K, Pederson C, Arge L, et al. Residential green space in childhood is associated with lower risk of psychiatric disorders from adolescence into adulthood. PNAS. 2019; January 14.