Green schoolyards offer physical and mental health benefits for children
CHICAGO – A growing body of evidence supports the claim that access to safe, natural areas improves health across a wide variety of areas, including heart health, mental health, weight management, ADHD, and stress among children. A concept gaining momentum in this realm is green schoolyards. But what is a green schoolyard?
A research abstract, "Green Schoolyards Support Healthy Bodies, Minds and Communities," that explores the concept of a green schoolyard will be presented Saturday, Sept. 16 at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition in Chicago.
"Green schoolyards can include outdoor classrooms, native gardens, storm water capture, traditional play equipment, vegetable gardens, trails, trees and more," says Stephen Pont, MD, MPH, FAAP, medical director, Dell Children's Texas Center for the Prevention & Treatment of Childhood Obesity and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, UT-Austin Dell Medical School. "And outside of school time, these schoolyards can be open for the surrounding community to use, benefitting everyone."
Green schoolyards offer an opportunity for children to experience a healthy outdoor environment as part of their daily lives. After school hours, they provide value to the entire community through improved health, higher rates of community and family engagement, and increased opportunities for active outdoor play and relaxation.
"Too many children have no access to quality school grounds. In many neighborhoods, the standard play space is a barren asphalt playground or a concrete slab surrounded by chain link fence–a completely unsuitable environment for children's play." says Richard Louv, Co-Founder of the Children & Nature Network.
For this study, researchers summarized the peer-reviewed scientific literature documenting green schoolyard benefits to academic outcomes, beneficial play, physical activity, and mental health. To date, the research on the benefits of green schoolyards has enabled 5 cities to implement such projects in collaboration with the Children & Nature Network and the National League of Cities. These include Austin, Texas; Grand Rapids, Mich.; San Francisco, Calif.; Providence, R.I.; and Madison, Wis.
"So many physicians and health professionals choose to spend their free time in nature, but we often forget that nature can be a powerful health intervention for our patients, both for the prevention and improvement of many medical conditions," says Dr. Pont. "We should all be champions for kids and families getting more Vitamin N."
Dr. Pont will present the abstract, available below, on Saturday, Sept.16, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. CT in McCormick Place West, Room S106. Please note: only the abstract is being presented at the meeting. In some cases, the researcher may have more data available to share with media, or may be preparing a longer article for submission to a journal.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 66,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit http://www.aap.org.
Abstract Title: Green Schoolyards Support Healthy Bodies, Minds and Communities
Program Goals: Schoolyards present an ideal, though usually untapped, environment to support the health of children. A growing body of evidence supports the claim that access to safe, natural areas improves health across a wide variety of outcomes, including cardiovascular health, mental health, weight management, ADHD, and stress among children. Many of these conditions are more prevalent and exact a higher toll in communities of color. The Children & Nature Network (C&NN), co-founded by Richard Louv (AAP NCE keynote 2010), is a non-profit organization with the goal of increasing equitable access to nature across the U.S. Green schoolyards offer an opportunity for access to healthy outdoor environments in everyday lives of children. When opened to the public outside of school hours, they provide value to the entire community through improved health outcomes, higher rates of community and family cohesion, and increased opportunities for active outdoor play and restoration. Nationally, C&NN is aligning disparate efforts to propel policy, research, partnerships and funding that foster green schoolyards at scale. In target cities, C&NN and the National League of Cities (NLC) partner to provide resources and technical assistance to advance city/school partnerships, support policy, and provide training and support to implement nature-rich outdoor environments on school grounds. Evaluation: The C&NN Scientific Advisory Council (SAC) and staff completed a thorough review of scientific literature on green schoolyards which resulted in important, compelling data to promote and advocate for the benefits of green schoolyards. This resulted in C&NN creating four thoroughly-vetted infographics summarizing peer reviewed scientific literature documenting green schoolyard benefits to academic outcomes*, beneficial play*, physical activity, and mental health. (We were limited to submitting 2 figures, additional figures available at: http://www.childrenandnature.org/initiatives/schoolyards/). In a 7-city cohort, the compelling research on the benefits of green schoolyards allowed 5 of the 7 cities to prioritize green schoolyards in their citywide implementation plans, led by their mayors' offices. The research currently has supported district-level and city-government decision-makers to come together to forge formal partnerships for green schoolyard implementation at a larger scale than was previously possible. Discussion: Pediatricians and pediatric health providers can be key leaders in this effort, lending their health influence in the community to promoting outdoor engagement on green schoolyards as an intervention that supports both mental and physical health in children. To propel health providers, cities, and schools to advocate for and implement this key health strategy, C&NN will launch in fall 2017 the Green Schoolyards Resource Hub, which will include additional research on community benefits, resources for decision-makers and school implementers, and measurement tools to evaluate attributes, quality, equity and community benefit of green schoolyards.