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Parks, Forests Boost Preschoolers' Mental Health
  • Posted April 11, 2024

Parks, Forests Boost Preschoolers' Mental Health

Toddlers who grow up near nature are less likely to have emotional issues, even if the green space is just a park or a big back yard, a new study shows.

The more green space there is within three-fourths of a mile from a child's home, the fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression they'll have between the ages of 2 and 5, investigators found.

“Our research supports existing evidence that being in nature is good for kids,” said researcher Nissa Towe-Goodman, with the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina. “It also suggests that the early childhood years are a crucial time for exposure to green spaces.”

For the study, researchers examined data from more than 2,100 children in 199 counties across 41 U.S. states. 

The team compared the depression and anxiety symptoms of the children -- who ranged in age from 2 to 11 -- to satellite data about the green space located near their homes.

More green space was significantly associated with less anxiety and depression among younger kids, even after accounting for other factors, researchers said. Those other factors included the child's gender, parent education and the social and economic quality of their neighborhood.

However, researchers found no significant link between green space and mental health symptoms from ages 6 to 11, after kids have started school.

The new study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), was published April 10 in the journal JAMA Network Open.

“In the future, researchers could look into what kinds of experiences in nature are connected to kids' early mental health,” Towe-Goodman said in an NIH news release. “Also, we should study how creating or preserving natural areas around homes and schools might make a difference in a child's mental health.”

More information

The American Psychological Association has more on the mental health benefits of nature.

SOURCE: National Institutes of Health, news release, April 10, 2024

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