Editor’s note: For more coverage of the 2020 AAP Virtual National Conference & Exhibition, visit http://bit.ly/AAPNationalConference2020.
In 2010, Richard Louv spoke at the AAP National Conference about his book “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.” In the book, he cited research that identified obesity, attention disorders, depression and a lack of creativity as consequences of children spending less time outdoors and more time on screens.
At the time, he urged pediatricians to encourage families to get outside and explore nature.
Louv, chair emeritus and co-founder of the Children & Nature Network, revisited the intersection between nature and health in his plenary address on Monday. He spoke about human isolation and how deep interactions with nature can alleviate loneliness.
“Now, we have COVID-19 paralleling another ongoing pandemic,” Louv said. “According to experts, human loneliness now rivals obesity and smoking as an indicator of early death.”
While researchers point to the breakdown of the extended family, unwalkable cities, social media and the dominance of screens as reasons for loneliness, he said he believes it stems from our inability to connect with the natural world.
“Humans are desperate to think we are not alone in the universe, and yet we are surrounded by great conversations that unites us with other species if we pay attention,” Louv said. “A direct bond with the natural world is fundamental to our emotional, physical, cognitive and social health.”
He also reiterated how connecting with nature is vital to children’s health and well-being — and how a growing body of research backs up what he wrote about in “Last Child in the Woods.”
He discussed how minority communities experience environmental inequity when they face environmental burdens such as toxic facilities in their communities or lack of access to nature.
Louv said children who live the farthest from natural areas will benefit the most when given an opportunity to interact with nature.
He suggested that “we view climate disruption, biodiversity collapse, zoonotic pandemics and human isolation as a single existential threat with shared solutions.”
As he did 10 years ago, he encouraged pediatricians to be leaders in this movement, first by acknowledging the intersection between human health and environmental issues, and then by advocating for incorporating nature into their patients’ daily lives.