Land Trust Alliance Teams with Environmental, Health Allies to Combat National Health Crisis of Nature Deficit Disorder

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The Land Trust Alliance, a national land conservation organization working to save the places people need and love by strengthening land conservation across America, has teamed with allies from across conservation and health sectors to announce today an initiative to combat nature deficit disorder, a national health crisis with substantial economic and social implications.

Land Trust Alliance logo

Land Trust Alliance logo

If nature contact were a medication, we would be prescribing it to everybody.

The Land Trust Alliance, a national land conservation organization working to save the places people need and love by strengthening land conservation across America, has teamed with allies from across conservation and health sectors to announce today an initiative to combat nature deficit disorder, a national health crisis with substantial economic and social implications.

“We, as a species, are now far more sedentary and disconnected from the land than our forerunners, and we are paying the price,” said Rand Wentworth, the Alliance’s president.

This cooperative initiative is anchored by the Wingspread Declaration, a document signed by 30 of America’s leading health officials, academics and nature-focused nonprofits. The Declaration calls for concerted action from health, environmental, academic, governmental and corporate actors to cooperatively reconnect people with nature and secure new commitments to protecting nature.

“If nature contact were a medication, we would be prescribing it to everybody,” said Howard Frumkin, dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Washington, and one of the signatories to the Declaration. “It is safe, it is effective in preventing and treating a wide range of diseases and improving well-being, and, compared to many medications, it costs less, has fewer side effects and doesn’t need to be administered by a specialist. Investment in natural settings for healing, recreation and routine activities is investment in health – and it’s an investment that yields a very high return.”

This new initiative comes at a time when more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese, incurring $148 billion in medical costs annually and contributing to 18% of U.S. adult deaths. Publicly available data shows U.S. healthcare costs are the highest per capita in the world – and that amount continues to increase.

“But consider an alternative,” Wentworth said. “Consider a forest trail. Consider a fresh breeze. Consider the robust body of evidence linking human health to nature.”

Wentworth said on both the quantitative and qualitative levels, time outdoors is known to improve people’s well-being. Nature deficit disorder is linked to higher rates of anxiety disorders and of mood disorders, such as depression, and exposure to green space counters these tendencies. People who live near natural settings are likely to report better mental health; urban parks are known to lower stress and elevate mood; and studies have even linked green neighborhoods with lower rates of obesity in children and longer life spans in elders.

“We know that increased activity can improve health,” said Ray Baxter, senior vice president of Community Benefit, Research and Health Policy at Kaiser Permanente, and another signatory to the Declaration. “We also know that access to nature can encourage and empower increased activity. So we should do everything possible to increase access to nature for everyone.”

Leaders from parks and health are discussing and supporting the Wingspread Declaration this week at milestone meetings in New Orleans and Sydney, Australia. Over 13,000 health providers at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting in New Orleans and 5,000 parks and protected-land professionals at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia, will learn more about the Declaration and its goals.

Additional supporters are also responding to the Declaration’s call on health institutions to include nature in their practices and prescriptions; call on schools to ensure all children grow up connected to nature; call on elected officials and philanthropists to invest in parks, trails and green spaces; and call on employers to reconnect their employees with nature.

“We have a moral imperative to improve access to nature for communities with the highest health needs,” said Rue Mapp, who also signed the Declaration and is CEO and founder of Outdoor Afro. “And in doing so, we not only prevent health problems, but we treat the crisis at hand.”

Visit http://www.healthandnature.org to learn more about and endorse the Wingspread Declaration.

About the Land Trust Alliance

Founded in 1982, the Land Trust Alliance is a national land conservation organization that works to save the places people need and love by strengthening land conservation across America. The Alliance represents 1,200 member land trusts supported by more than 5 million members nationwide. The Alliance is based in Washington, D.C., and operates several regional offices. More information about the Alliance is available at http://www.landtrustalliance.org.

About the University of Washington School of Public Health

The University of Washington School of Public Health is one of the nation’s leading such institutions. Our vision — “Healthy people in sustainable communities — locally, nationally, and globally” — drives a three-part mission: teaching, research, and service. Over the last 40 years, our 10,000 graduates have gone on to transform communities and lead health organizations. Our faculty and students accomplish innovative research to meet the emerging challenges of the 21st century, such as environmental change, obesity and nutrition, health policy, health systems that work, and the social factors that affect our health. To learn more, visit sph.washington.edu.

About Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and nonprofit health plans. Founded in 1945, we have a mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve approximately 9.5 million members in eight states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to: kp.org/share.

About Outdoor Afro

Outdoor Afro is a social community that reconnects African-Americans with natural spaces and one another through recreational activities such as camping, hiking, biking, birding, fishing, gardening, skiing and more. Outdoor Afro disrupts the false perception that black people do not have a relationship with nature and works to shift the visual representation of who can connect with the outdoors. To learn more, visit http://www.outdoorafro.com.

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Joshua Lynsen