Healthy Kids Outdoors Act Supports Strategies to Connect Kids with Nature

Bill to address health, economic and future conservation concerns by supporting state, local and federal strategies

11-03-2011 // Max Greenberg
Family Hiking

Just days after American kids took to the outdoors for Halloween, two members of Congress have formally suggested we make open-air adventures a year-round habit---but without the costumes and candy.

Rep. Ron Kind (WI) and Sen. Mark Udall (CO) introduced House and Senate versions of the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act today to support state, local and federal strategies to connect youth and families with the natural world, with an eye toward improving children’s health and supporting future economic growth and conservation efforts.

“The nature of childhood has changed, and there isn’t much nature in it,” said Larry Schweiger, National Wildlife Federation’s president and CEO. “National Wildlife Federation commends Congressman Ron Kind and Senator Mark Udall for introducing legislation that will strengthen the economy by getting Americans moving through recreation and active outdoor play.”

Getting Childhood Back Outdoors

The Healthy Kids Outdoors Act represents the spearhead of a national movement to get childhood back outdoors, a pointed response to the approximately 13 million U.S. children and adolescents who are obese and the increasingly screen-bound lifestyle that got them there. Just last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics cautioned that parents should limit their young kids’ TV and other screen time, and even the amount of time they spend watching TV near their kids. A recent report from Common Sense Media found that ‘screen time’ is higher than ever for American kids despite such warnings.

Recent studies have also shown that children between the ages of 8-18 are spending half as much time outdoors as they did 20 years ago, devoting an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes to entertainment media in a typical day instead. By working on partnerships to encourage outdoor recreation, Rep. Kind, Sen. Udall and supporters in OAK aim to put some of the nature back into childhood.

Nature as an Economic Driver

As American childhood—and recreation—has moved indoors, local and state economies have suffered along with it. The drop in outdoor recreation has translated into less revenue for outdoor retailers, local tourist destinations or “gateway communities,” and state fish and wildlife agencies.

On a national level, outdoor recreation contributes $730 billion annually to the economy (including $289 billion in retail sales and services), supports 6.5 million jobs and provides sustainable growth in many rural communities—one more reason to encourage it and make it accessible.

“[The bill] supports our vibrant outdoor economy, which is especially important in Colorado and to our rural mountain communities,” said Sen. Udall.

Shepherding the Conservationists of Tomorrow

One of the most important benefit of getting kids outdoors and in nature is the effect it may have on future conservation efforts.

2006 study (PDF) from Cornell researchers found that participating in outdoor activities like hiking, hunting or camping as a kid positively impacts a person’s attitudes toward nature (and environmentally conscious behavior) as an adult, and that the most direct route to caring about environmental stewardship as an adult is participating in “wild nature activities” before the age of 11.

That report concluded that “youth spending so little time outside may also lead to a dwindling knowledge about biodiversity and… less pro-environmental attitudes and reduced participation in environmentally friendly behaviors as adults.”

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