Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care


Do children feel better outdoors?

20 September 2018

New Child of our Time blog features research demonstrating the mental health benefits to children of time outdoors.

A major new review of the evidence of the benefits to children's mental health of spending time outdoors is the subject the latest article of the ICLS Child of our Time blog

Researchers at Western University and the The Lawson Foundation in Canada reviewed 100 findings from 35 studies which looked at children and teens aged from nine months to 18 years.

Overall, the review showed nature could have a positive effect on many outcomes measuring mental health. But only around half of all 100 reported findings revealed statistically significant positive relationships between nature and mental health outcomes, with almost half reporting no statistical significance.

For some outcomes - ADHD, stress, resilience, overall mental health and health-related quality of life - there were more positive findings than there were non-significant ones. Studies which looked at emotional well-being, self-esteem, and depression had a greater number of non-significant findings than positive ones. Only one finding, on the impact of greenness on a subgroup of children, showed a negative effect.

The research team have also devised a framework that might help future researchers by categorising papers into three groups based on types of nature interaction: 'accessibility,' meaning studies that look at mere opportunity to access outdoor space, 'exposure,' which means studies that look at incidental interactions with nature while taking part in another activity,  and 'engagement,' which means a more direct engagement such as participation in a wilderness therapy programme.

Mental health benefits of interactions with nature in children and teenagers: a systematic review is research by Suzanne Tillmann, Danielle Tobin, William Alison and Jason Gilliland and is published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.