The study, led by a team from the University of Hong Kong, revealed that children who developed a closer connection with nature had less distress, less hyperactivity and had a healthy lifestyle with regard to active play and eating habits.
‘Besides providing children with many health benefits, staying in close connection with nature also promotes a healthy attitude in the minds of the children to protect the environment.’
They also had fewer behavioral and emotional difficulties, as well as improved pro-social behavior.
However, despite the extensive, adjacent greenness, many families are not using these areas, the researchers rued in the paper published in the PLOS ONE
"We noticed a tendency where parents are avoiding nature. They perceive it as dirty and dangerous, and their children unfortunately pick up these attitudes," said Tanja Sobko from the University's School of Biological Sciences.
In addition, the green areas are often unwelcoming with signs like "Keep off the grass", Sobko added.
Recent research shows that spending time with nature may bring many health benefits, and many environmental programs around the world are trying to decrease 'nature-deficit' and 'child-nature disconnectedness' in order to improve children's health.
For the study, the team prepared a new 16-item parent questionnaire (CNI-PPC) to measure "connectedness to nature' in very young children. The questionnaire identified four areas that reflect the child-nature relationship: enjoyment of nature, empathy for nature, responsibility towards nature and awareness of nature.
The results give a new possibility for investigating the link between the outdoor environment and well-being in pre-school children.
The team further plans to test the effect of exposing children to nature and changes in their gut microbiota.