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Survey Reveals Shocking Truth: Kids Don't Spend Enough Time Outside

Image credit: Karine Aigner/The Nature Conservancy

This week, the Nature Conservancy released the results of the first global survey to capture not only how much time kids spend outside, but also parents’ perspectives on the importance and benefits of time spent in nature.

The survey, funded by Disney, included parents of children between the ages of three and 18 in the US, Brazil, China, France and Hong Kong and revealed the following:

65 percent of US parents see it as a “very serious” problem that kids are not spending more time outdoors. According to the survey, this is equal to their concerns about bullying, the quality of education and obesity. Of the other places surveyed, only parents in Brazil and Hong Kong share this concern.

So how often are kids outside? According to the survey, the amount of time varies widely by age, declining as kids get older. While preschoolers spend about 12 hours a week outside, by the time a US teen turns 16, he or she is spending less than seven hours a week in nature. Survey results show this same US trend worldwide, with the exception of Brazil. In Hong Kong, for example, time spent in nature past the age of 16 is as little as 1.8 hours per week.

What worries parents
Click for full infographic.

Does time outside really matter? Parents think so. The vast majority (82 percent) of US parents view spending time in nature as “very important” to their children’s development — second only to reading as a priority. In addition, 83 percent of US parents think that time in nature leads to improvement in the classroom.

“Most parents in each of the markets we surveyed say that they would like their children to spend more time outdoors than they currently do,” says Stephanie Wear, a scientist for The Nature Conservancy. “This is really encouraging because it tells us that to parents, nature is not just ‘something to do’ but a crucial part of childhood.”

What keeps kids indoors? Homework is the number one obstacle to getting outside for kids in the US, France and Hong Kong. In Brazil, parents cite crime and gangs as the top reason their kids stay inside, while parents in China point to a cut back in recess.

US parents also cite children’s discomfort with being outdoors (too hot, rainy, the presence of bugs, etc.) as the second-biggest obstacle. The US is the only country surveyed to note this as a main obstacle to getting outside.

“The realization that there are kids who are growing up reluctant to go outside is a serious problem,” says Wear, who is also a mother of two.

“The more kids are exposed to the great outdoors, the more they appreciate the beauty and value of nature,” say Dr. Beth Stevens, SVP of Citizenship, Environment & Conservation at Disney. “Disney’s longstanding collaboration with The Nature Conservancy is helping kids and families discover nature, sparking a curiosity about the wild and inspiring lifelong conservation values. Simply put, kids who love nature grow up to protect it. ”

What can parents do? According to the survey, children are much more likely to be outside with a parent or guardian than a friend, teacher or extended family member.

“Parents are the gatekeepers to nature,” says Wear. “They have the power to foster a love of nature in their children — making them happier, healthier and smarter — just by going outside.”

For a full summary of the survey results, contact Geraldine Henrich-Koenis, media director at The Nature Conservancy — (703) 841-3939.

Fear not, parents: The National Park Trust’s annual Kids to Parks Day is coming up on Saturday, May 17. And the Nature Conservancy’s Nature Rocks site is an online and mobile-friendly tool that offers a wide range of activities for the backyard and beyond; a Nature Finder tool to locate nearby zoos, parks and other natural areas; and a weekly blog and round up of news relevant to kids in nature.

Even though it was not one of the countries surveyed, the UK’s children are among those suffering from “nature deficit disorder” as well: According to Project Wild Thing, a documentary released last fall that examines the epidemic, kids’ roaming distance from their homes has reportedly decreased 90 percent in the past 30 years.

Wanting to reacquaint kids with nature is the latest way Disney has shown it may indeed be a good role model for your children: The multimedia conglomerate recently joined eight other companies in severing ties with the Boy Scouts of America due to the organization’s anti-gay stance, and in 2012 it pledged to ban junk food ads from its child-focused cable channels by 2015.


Jennifer Elks is Managing Editor at Sustainable Brands. She is a writer, editor and foodie who is passionate about improving food systems, closing loops and creating more livable cities. She loves cooking, wine, cooking with wine, correcting spelling errors in… [Read more about Jennifer Elks]


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