Whole Child: Developing Mind, Body and Spirit Through Outdoor Play

Physician-reviewed report examines health benefits of unstructured time in nature

08-05-2010 // Amanda Cooke
Whole Child Report Cover_Be Out There 

National Wildlife Federation today issued a new health report called Whole Child: Developing Mind, Body and Spirit Through Outdoor Play.

The report reveals how America's addiction to time indoors affects our physical and mental health. Reviewed by an independent panel of medical experts, Whole Child explores how regular, unstructured outdoor play can boost the health of a child’s mind, body and spirit.

Physicians understand connection between health and outdoor time

“I am deeply troubled by some of the trends I see in my practice including increased obesity in kids and higher rates of asthma, ADHD, anxiety and depression. What all kids need are natural, safe places where they can play,” says Sandra Stenmark, M.D., a pediatrician with Kaiser Permanente and physician lead of Colorado Pediatric Cardiovascular Health who participated in NWF’s Summit on Children and the Outdoors this last April.

An increasing number of experts recognize the role that outdoor time plays in enhancing kids’ mental health by helping to better connect them to self, to others and to the natural world. Children who spend much of their time indoors watching television or playing video games can become isolated and withdrawn, even if they are connecting to people online.

According to Deputy U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Rutstein, lack of outdoor time is a key factor in the childhood obesity epidemic and, if trends aren’t reversed, may contribute to a generation with not only less healthy but also shorter lives. “Overweight and obese adolescents have a 70 percent chance of becoming obese adults,” Dr. Rutstein said. “If this problem is not addressed, we will leave our children a legacy of shorter life spans for the first time in history.”

In addition to obesity, Whole Child highlights the rising rates of childhood diabetes, vitamin deficiencies, asthma, and vision problems, all of which can be tempered with adequate outdoor time.

Whole Child includes recommendations for caregivers, healthcare providers, educators and leaders so that, together, they can change America's indoor habits. Recommendations include asking parents to model “un-plugging” from technology, taking part in the Be Out There pledge to go outside as a family, and advising pediatricians to write prescriptions for regular outdoor time for kids.

Download the full report - Whole Child: Developing Mind, Body and Spirit Through Outdoor Play (pdf)

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