For nearly 200 years the U.S. Supreme Court was made up of men. Then came Sandra Day O’Connor.
The case has been made for decades that kids need to spend time outdoors. The benefits are many– exercise, play, and learning about nature. But for years, everyone from parents to doctors to nature enthusiasts have been concerned kids aren’t getting outside as much as they should be. Now there’s a growing body of scientific evidence to support their cause. Research is showing that going outdoors more often prevents obesity, reduces symptoms of ADHD, and may even stimulate learning. For this month’s Environmental Outlook: some creative ways to get kids outside and why it’s good for the environment.
- Richard Louv Journalist and author of nine books, including "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder", "The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age", and most recently "Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life: 500 Ways to Enrich Your Family’s Health & Happiness"
- Jonathan Jarvis Director, National Park Service; he established the National Park Service’s Healthy Parks Healthy People program in 2011; The National Park Service is a member of the National Park Prescriptions Initiative (Park Rx), a national movement designed in collaboration with over 60 healthcare providers and community partners that use parks, trails, and open space to improve individual and community health.
- Dr. Robert Zarr Pediatrician at Unity Health Care in Washington, DC; founder and director of DC Park Rx, a community health initiative to prescribe nature to patients and families
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. It's the start of spring, which, for many of us, especially families with children, it's a time of year when we start trying to get outdoors more often. How to get kids into nature is a topic our guests today spend lots of time thinking about. For April's Environmental Outlook, we discuss whether children are spending enough time outside and new reasons to get them out there.
MS. DIANE REHMHere with me, Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, Dr. Robert Zarr is a pediatrician at Unity Healthcare here in Washington D.C. And joining us by phone from San Diego, Richard Louv, journalist and author. And throughout the hour, I'm sure you will want to be part of the conversation. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. If you've found the magic way to entice your children to go outdoors, share some of those with us.
MS. DIANE REHMYou can send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Facebook, send us a tweet. And thank you all for joining us.
MR. JONATHAN JARVISThank you for having us.
DR. ROBERT ZARRIt's a real pleasure to be here, Diane, thank you.
MR. RICHARD LOUVHowdy, Diane.
REHMRichard Louv, I want to start with you. About ten years ago, you wrote "Last Child In The Woods." Tell us what your concern was at that time and what you believe has changed since then.
LOUVMy concern was that it was becoming quite evident that there was a disengagement between children and nature, which means adults in nature because children happen to grow up and that this was happening at a rapid rate and more than any time in human history. It's been less time outside developing their senses, their skills and their connection to the natural world. That, what has changed is two things. One is the amount of research that backs that up has expanded exponentially.
LOUVWe're finally moving beyond correlative evidence to some real important longitudinal studies. But the other thing that has changed is that since "Last Child In The Woods" came out and it was percolating already, there has been a movement that has emerged among parents, among pediatricians like Dr. Zarr and the National Park Service. Jon Jarvis has been a real leader of this. And now, tens of thousands of people are volunteering or working in this arena far more than before.
LOUVWe're seeing regional campaigns, about 120 of them in cities and states and regions. We're seeing the explosion of family nature clubs that are forming. Parents are creating these themselves. There's policy being changed and Jon Jarvis will talk about that in terms of the National Parks, but even beyond that. So this movement has emerged and it's now around the world. I just got back from China for ten days and there's amazing things happening there now. They're very concerned about it.
LOUVSo those are the two big things that I think have changed. And by the way, Diane, when I was on your show a decade ago, you really helped start all that, I think.
REHMI think it was actually your book, Richard Louv, who now has a brand new book. It's titled "Vitamin N" like Nancy. He subtitles it, "The Essential Guide to a Nature Rich Life." To you, Jon Jarvis, you have, I gather, been at the Park Service for some 39 years. You even beat me out. Have kids become more of a priority for the Park Service?
JARVISAbsolutely, Diane. We feel that an investment in connecting kids to their parks and public lands is an investment that will pay off for their entire lives. It will build a new constituency for support for the National Parks and Public Land. So as a part of our centennial this year, we're 100 years old and celebrating that across the nation. Our real focus is on connecting with this next generation and getting kids in the outdoors.
REHMWhat is it that happened? Was it the computer revolution, the technology that kids found all around them that sort of put them indoors, kept them indoors, less interested in what was going on outdoors?
JARVISWell, I think there are a combination of factors and Rich, in particular, I think did a fantastic job of articulating that into the mainstream media. But I think it's a combination of an increasingly urban population, lack of access to green space in urban design. This is an area we're investing in through the land and water conservation Fund, is helping create new green spaces within communities, nearby, green space nearby, high quality parks.
JARVISPart of it is technology. You know, kids like to explore and have adventure. Well, technology has become that new place to explore.
JARVISAnd what we're saying -- we're not adverse to technology, but it can be threshold to bring them to the outdoors, to learn more. So we're actually embracing some of the technological apps and others that can help them understand nature and history as well. So and I think it's a new generation that'll come to America as new American citizens that maybe had no experience with public lands, didn't know that they were available. So this is all part of our initiative.
REHMJonathan Jarvis is director of the National Park Service. And turning to you, Dr. Robert Zarr, I would imagine that when -- contrasting when I was growing up, we had recess every single day. Once in the morning, once in the afternoon. The school day is being squeezed. There are clear advantages to taking a break from studying, from working into playing. Why is it that that has gotten squeezed out of the picture and now, people are beginning to recognize we had real benefits back then.
ZARRYeah. I think it's a great question and I think that it's not just that we are being -- we're feeling squeezed with time, 'cause there is that element, I think, that we're sort of always feeling rushed and always running from one place to another, but I think there's also this -- we're still sort of in this infatuation stage with technology and we haven't quite learned yet how to -- as we say in medicine and public health, judiciously use technology.
ZARRSo I'm a big fan of technology as well, but what we're able to show, not just here in D.C., but in dozens of examples of park prescriptions programs across the country is how to take technology and use it in such a way to connect people to parks in our efforts in the public health world and the medical world to both prevent and treat chronic disease as well as promote wellness.
REHMGive me an example.
ZARRIf you'd like an example from one of my patients, I think it's fair to talk about Kelsey Aguilar (sp?) who's already been on several different media channels and she's just a fabulous person who has changed dramatically not just in her physical health -- so she has definitely show improvements, vast improvements in her weight and body mass index as a measure of one's being overweight or obese and she's gone from being obese to being a normal weight now. But more important to me and I think to her, is this growth in her, in her wellbeing and in her self esteem and her ability to see past what was once a big sort of negative in her life, being overweight.
ZARRSo we went from focusing -- and this is what we often do in the office, you know, unfortunately in my world, you know, we have something about every patient called a problem list and I really don't like thinking about my patients in terms of problem list. I like thinking about my patients in terms of positive things and finding something that they can do that's easy to do, that's free, that's accessible, that they can grab onto and actually feel like they have an accomplishment in their life.
REHMBut how did technology tie into that program you were trying to create?
ZARRAbsolutely. So in 2010, so a lot of my inspiration came after reading "Last Child In The Woods," I thought how is it that I can't, in a 15-minute office visit, easily connect my families I'm seeing with a place to be outside. And so we went about that task here in D.C. by creating a database. So now, we have a database of 354 parks. And if anybody would like to see that, it's DCParkrx.org. And that database has been linked electronically to our electronic health record.
ZARRSo when I had this first discussion with Kelsey about her daily routine, her activity log, her dietary log, what does she eat, what does she do, you know, it turned out that, you know, she was having to commute, take one bus, then a train, then another bus to get from home to school and then back again. And I, you know, stupidly thought, well, maybe you could, you know, on your way home, walk a little bit. And she said, no, I can't do that. You know, my parents would kill me. It's dark by that point.
ZARRSo I, you know, I said, well, what about getting up a little bit earlier, taking -- getting off a little -- one stop earlier on that second bus and walking through a park to get to school and she said done.
REHMDr. Robert Zarr, he's a pediatrician. Jonathan Jarvis of the National Park Service and Richard Louv. His new book is "Vitamin N." Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about what kids these days have in the way of access to fresh air and most especially nature. Richard Louv, who is the author of "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder," has a brand new book out. It's called "Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life." talk about why you needed to follow up your earlier book with this one, Richard.
LOUVThat's a great question. I think what's changed over the last decade is that there is now a lot more awareness about this issue, about the benefits of nature to kids and the cost to kids but also to families, also to communities. So that awareness has expanded a lot, with the help of people like John and Robert and thousands of others.
LOUVWhat we're facing, though, is potentially -- you know, nobody wants this to be a fad, and so it's very, very important to move quicker to more actions, taking more actions at the family level, at the community level and also at the national level, but it really starts at the grass roots. So "Vitamin N" is really a very practical book, I hope, and it is a collection of 500 ways that both families and communities and teachers and doctors and all kinds of people can connect not only kids but themselves to the natural world.
LOUVAnd in schools, you were talking about schools, for instance. I actually -- I just got back from Atlanta, where I visited a wonderful school there that is a nature-based school. This is something that the Children in Nature Network, which is the nonprofit that grew out of "Last Child," has been promoting this idea among many others. I actually think that green schools or schools that are nature-based, they're the real cutting edge of education, of the future of education, not technology.
LOUVTechnology is great, but we are completely out of balance. School district after school district has canceled or cut back on recess, canceled or cut back completely on field trips, for instance to the national parks.
LOUVAnd we're really moving in many direction that are opposing the experience of reality. So in "Vitamin N," I talk about something I call the hybrid mind, which is trying to seek some kind of balance, not necessarily 50-50, but some kind of a balance in our kids' lives but also in our own lives, our family lives, community lives, between the virtual and the real, particularly natural.
REHMHelp me to understand what a nature-based school is.
LOUVThe school I just visited, the kids spend at least a third of the day outdoors. These are not unpopular in Scandinavian countries. I just got back from Denmark, and actually they're beginning to worry there that this tradition of outdoor schools is threatened. And in Scandinavian countries, for instance, they have all-weather schools, where kids spend a good part of the day outdoors no matter what the weather is. And they find that those kids have fewer colds and less flu.
LOUVFinland leads the world in terms of math and science tests, and they put a real premium on spending as much time outdoors as possible.
LOUVThe typical Finnish school, kids spend 45 minutes indoors and then go outside for 15 minutes and run around, and often it's in a nature -- natural play space, and then they come back in. And they lead the world in testing. Meanwhile, we're still going down in the world, or at least we've been dropping for some time.
REHMHere's an email from Linda, and I wonder whether this is one of your 500 ways. She says, the magic method to get kids outside is to go with them, teach and talk and play.
LOUVBy the way, I'm really glad that you're asking your readers for -- I mean your listeners for -- I do readers, you do listeners -- asking them to send in ideas. There's actually a link at the beginning of "Vitamin N," and it's vitaminnfornature.com, and I invite readers to send their ideas, which we're going to collect and publish and make available to everybody.
REHMGreat, great, but how do you feel about this listener's comment that parents need to be involved to get the idea started?
LOUVI think that's -- I think that's true, and one of the wonderful things is that the parent who does this, any adult who does this, receives all the same benefits that the child does. You know, there's evidence of reduction of attention deficit disorder, increased mental health, reduced stress, myopia, Vitamin D deficiency are involved with this. It also helps make us learn more easily and be more creative. Test scores are going up in those green schools that I mentioned. It turns out that that may be one of the best ways to raise standardized testing.
LOUVSo it starts with the parent, but we can't put it only the shoulders of the parents. The schools need to be involved.
LOUVThe parks need to be involved. Pediatricians like Dr. Zarr are amazing. They're out there actually prescribing nature now, and I have to say that I used to have a junior high principal who used to say, be careful what you say, someone may be listening, I was -- I gave the keynote at the 2010 national conference of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and Dr. Zarr was in the audience. And I think he was listening. He's doing wonderful things in D.C.
REHMDr. Zarr, talk about what we're learning about research on the children in terms of the kinds of things Rich was talking about.
ZARRSure, it's actually -- you know, we're in the middle of a crisis right now. So when I was in training, a little over 20 years ago, in pediatrics that is, there was very little focus on chronic disease. That's about almost all we do these days is chronic disease management in kids. And I know this program is about kids and parks, but it isn't just about kids. It is certainly about all ages. It is really important for all ages to spend more time outside.
ZARRSo we're looking at now about 133 million Americans who have at least one chronic disease. They are going to suffer needlessly, and they're going to die prematurely. And this data, unfortunately, is a bit dated. We're looking, this is a few years back. So it's probably a little bit more at this point. We also know, as Director Jarvis pointed out, that more and more people are living in urban areas. So by 2030, only 14 years away, 70 percent of the world's population will be living in urban areas.
ZARRSo the relevance of parks now has been elevated to a very, very different degree, meaning that we're dying earlier, we're suffering needlessly because of chronic disease. We can change that, we can change that by making tweaks in our schedule, which is what doctors often are recommending to their patients, let's look at your schedule, let's find a way for you to be more active outside or to be outside, and I'm going to give you a tool, using technology, to help you with that, and we're going to see if that in fact does what we try to do, which is reduce your body mass index, increase your wellness, increase your happiness, decrease your symptoms for ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression in adults.
ZARRThere is a list, a long, long list of chronic disease. In adults we're seeing diabetes. In children we're seeing pre-diabetes and diabetes now we never saw 20 years ago, a doubling of obesity in children in the last 20 years. So we're in crisis mode right now. And we have a solution, we have good, scientific evidence to back this up now, we have a growing body of scientific literature that is showing us that we can reduce diabetic A1Cs, we can improve asthma outcomes, we can reduce weight, increase our wellness.
ZARRWith spending more time outside in green, natural settings.
REHMAnd Jonathan Jarvis, when you think about green spaces and green settings, it's really hard for some young people, and adults as well, to get to those green spaces. What is the Park Service plan going forward?
JARVISWell, we have a number of initiatives, too, that I really want to highlight. One, a year ago, President Obama launched, at our request, the every kid in a park initiative, where we created a pass to all of the national parks and public lands, a free pass that fourth-graders, every fourth-grader in the nation, is eligible for. They have to do a little bit of online, a little bit of technology, a little bit of education about their parks and public lands, and then they are awarded this pass that allows them and their family free access to all of the national parks and public lands in the nation for a year.
JARVISAnd our intent, of course, is to do that every year for the next 12 years so that we get every kid in the nation into a park and public land. And we are also raising the money to provide transportation grants directly to schools, through the National Park Foundation, so that they can pay for a bus driver and a docent and, you know, the volunteers that go with them on these field trips. And we're working with teachers to incorporate that directly into their education curriculum.
REHMHere's what I would wonder about. I would wonder about whether there is the interest in the initiative for putting more parks in public places very close to urban settings so people don't have to take public transportation or buses to get there.
JARVISYour spot-on Diane. So one of the other initiatives that we have is an urban focus in our Land and Water Conservation Fund. The LWCF is the revenue from the Outer Continental Shelf oil leasing. It comes to the Congress, and they re-appropriate it to the National Park Service to provide grants to communities, cities, counties, states to create parks or to improve existing parks by providing basic facilities.
JARVISSo we have an urban focus. Right now I have $18 million, that's not very much money, but it's some. We're very focused on what I would call park-deficient communities. Just like there are food deserts, there are park deserts. There are communities for one reason or another have no access to green space, or whatever space they had has been trashed to become...
JARVISSo we are providing very specific monetary grants. The announcement for that is coming out I think very soon, and communities can apply to create green space out of, you know, an old shopping mall or a derelict building, tear it down, turn it into a park. Then parks are close to home. And we have a whole group of really fantastic mayors across the nation that are making this kind of commitment, that there'll be a park or an outdoor space within a few blocks of every citizen of their city.
JARVISAnd it's really fantastic. There's a great renaissance going on in urban park spaces, things like the Highline in New York City or Railroad Park in Birmingham. These are great new parks that are creating this kind of opportunity. You know what's really great about this initiative that Dr. Zarr and Rich have really helped initiate is that parks are -- outdoors is basically free. You know, when you really think about it, all the other things that are prescribed cost money. This is something that is really pretty inexpensive when you think about it.
REHMAnd having grown up, as listeners know, right here in Washington, in the Bentworth area, and having a playground right on the corner, I mean, it just made all the difference in the world both after school, on weekends, in the evenings in the summer, just absolutely fantastic and gave me an appreciation for all sports, for mingling with other kids, for just doing things in freedom that I would not have been able to do otherwise. And you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show.
REHMWe have many callers. I want to open the phones, and let's go to Trey here in Washington, D.C. You're on the air.
TREYGood morning, Diane. Thank you so much for having this show about getting children outdoors.
TREYI work with Anacostia River Keeper here in D.C.
TREYWe've got a great program called Friday Night Fishing that gets kids out on the Anacostia River so they can meet the river as a good thing and get out into nature, and then they learn how to fish, as well. We're doing boat tours, as well, to introduce kids and kids of all ages to the river.
REHMI love the way you say getting kids to meet the river. That's just what you're about, Rich.
LOUVAnd several -- and that's a wonderful program, by the way. I know that program. And that's an illustration of a fact that national parks are hugely important. Nature outside of cities, obviously, is very important. Some of those national parks happen to be your national monuments, happen to be in cities, and I spend as much time in "Vitamin N," in fact more time, talking about nearby nature, nature around our own homes. In inner-city neighborhoods, there is nature there. One of the precepts of this book and my others is that conservation is no longer enough. Now we need to create nature, as strange as that sounds.
LOUVAnd there are people working all over the country. We're working at the -- with the National League of Cities, which is about 19,000 mayors and other municipal leaders, to really figure out what does it mean to have a nature-rich city. How do you define that? Secondly, how do you -- how do you measure that over time? And then how do you train future mayors to really think about their cities as nature-rich?
LOUVOne of the most interesting studies I've seen is that the urban parks with the highest degree of biodiversity are the ones that are the best for human psychological health. I actually believe that cities can become incubators of biodiversities -- biodiversity and engines of human health by creating more nature in them, all around us.
REHMIndeed, and let's take a quick call from Rockton, Illinois. Dana, you're on the air.
DANAHi Diane, it's a pleasure talking to you today.
DANAI just had a quick statement and then two questions to follow up. And my statement was, shortly after my eldest daughter was born, a group of mothers and I started hiking groups through the local state parks, where as long as your child was old enough to be held in a baby carrier, we began a scheduled set of hiking tours through all the trails. And we found that especially right after mothers had given birth, you know, it can be very isolating. And so this really improved, you know, women who were suffering from some postpartum issues.
DANAI was also introducing children to nature at a very early age.
REHMI should say.
DANAAnd yes, and now where we have it, the group has grown, and our children that are now maybe toddlers, early preschool, are involved in the group, along with younger siblings. We have a rope that we all hold on to when we travel together through the trails. And my question...
REHMAll right, and you'll need to hold on, and we'll take your question after a short break. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Just before the break Dana from Rockton, Ill. wanted to ask a question. Go right ahead, Dana.
DANAThank you, Diane. My two questions were this. As one, do we see any other programs like this popping up across the country, whether it's through the National Park Service or not. Ours is obviously independent. And then two, do we see the decrease in scouting as another problem. The Boys Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of America used to be such a vibrant organization. And I see so much less activity there. Do they see any issue with that as well? And I'll take my questions off the air.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. What about spreading these grass roots ideas even further?
JARVISDiane and Dana, great question. There are these kinds of groups popping up all across the country. A lot of stimulated by Rich's book. Also by the Children In Nature Network. We're trying to spread this concept out and invite people back into these spaces. And I think groups like Dana created, Mothers, is a perfect example and a great inspiration to others. But there, there are literally hundreds and hundreds of these.
JARVISPlus a lot of pilot projects out there that the public health community and the medical community is also working on around prescribing nature.
REHMAnd, Rich, what about scouting? What's happened to Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts? Are they as active, as out there as they used to be or has that membership dwindled as well?
LOUVWell, in some parts of the world, like the -- as in the U.K. and certainly in Canada, scouting has been on the increase. It bottomed out there for a while in terms of membership, but it's been going up for several years. The scouting in the U.S., Girl Scouts, I'm not sure what's happening there. But there was a real decrease in the number of Boy Scouts in the United States for a while. But I think that that perhaps has leveled out and is gonna start going up.
LOUVSome of their political positions on homosexuality, on gays, on gay scout leaders and all of that was problematic. I actually gave the keynote at a national -- the national conference of the scouting leaders a few years ago and addressed that issue. They have changed. I think that that's good news. But I think there's new forms of that emerging. The family nature clubs that I mentioned earlier. These are families that band together, kind of informally. You don't have to wait for an official organization.
LOUVYou can download a free toolkit, by the way. And I describe this in "Vitamin N," from the Children Nature Network on how to do it. And these are multiple families that band together to show up at the park on Saturday and go for a walk together. Several families at a time. That does several things. One is it deals with the fear issue, to a degree, because there's perceived safety in numbers.
LOUVBut, again, you don't have to wait for funding. You don't have to wait for government. You don't have to wait for a big organization. There are now hundreds of these family nature clubs. And many of them have hundreds of families each. The one that is in San Diego, where I live, started just, I think, about three years ago, now has over 1,500 families. They don't all show up at the park.
REHMAt the same time, yeah.
LOUVJon Jarvis wouldn't appreciate that if they all showed up at the park at exactly the same time. But that's a pool of families that you can depend on…
LOUV…to find a few families to do something with you outdoors.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Salt Lake City, Utah. Todd, you're on the air.
TODDYeah, great conversation going on today. My comment is I grew up camping all across the country. In fact, we never once stayed in a hotel as a family growing up. And I've noticed that the parks have adopted what I call more of an amusement park model, where, you know, they encourage you to stay offsite in hotels and you get bussed into them. And you get to explore around for, you know, sun -- from when they're open to when they close and then you leave.
TODDAnd the amount of available camping has dwindled to almost zero for families to go experience. You know, we used to cook our own food around the campfire. And now we eat at the concession stands and it's really changed the dynamic, I think, of camping. And, you know, altered sort of the idea of being out in nature that I grew up with. And that's a really big concern of mine now that I have my own family to try to introduce, you know, the park service and nature to.
JARVISWell, Todd, I would say that there's still plenty of places out there on the National Parks, as well as our public lands, like the BLM, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Forest Service lands where you can still have that kind of extraordinary experience. You might have to look for it a little more because I think we have had to create transportation systems because we are hosting hundreds of millions of visitors now to our national parks. But there's still -- I guarantee I can take you and your family into even Yosemite on the Fourth of July and I can have you in a quite spot pretty easily.
JARVISSo you have to look for it.
REHMThat's a big promise.
JARVISI've done it.
REHMI must say. Dr. Zarr, I gather you have ranked cities for their accessibility to green spaces. First, how does Washington rank?
ZARRSure. Actually -- it's a great question. Actually -- and I want to take a moment here to also just highlight the importance of partnerships. So one organization cannot change the culture entirely. So the National Park Service should be applauded for working with the National Recreation and Park Association, for the Institute of the Golden Gate, a number of other organizations of which I'm park of this national coalition now of National Park Rx Movement across the country.
ZARRWe're working very closely together and we would have -- we have some of the most unusual partners that you wouldn't imagine. Architects and city planners working with doctors, other kinds of health providers, physical therapists and nurses, psychiatrists all around the country figuring out ways in which the public health and medical community can get our patients connected to space. So the Trust Republic Land is an organization that has looked at the accessibility, among other things, to public space, to green space. And D.C. ranks quite high.
ZARRLast time I remember looking at it, I think it's number six in the country in -- when it compares to other major cities. So in your point earlier, Diane, about being able to walk to the park is extremely important. Our -- one of our national goals is to make sure that you live within a half a mile walking distance to a park. So when I prescribe a park, I'm looking for parks that are close to where people live, work, wherever they are.
ZARRSo ideally, we're talking about a situation where if you've got 20 minutes for lunch and you want to find out where exactly you can take that lunch outside, you should be able to figure that out in a matter of seconds, technology. If you have 30 minutes and want to play a couple rounds of tennis with someone, you should be able to, through social media and through this technology, figure out where you can play tennis with somebody else during that particular time.
REHMBoy, that's an ambitious goal for the park service, though, isn't it?
JARVISOh, it absolutely can be done, but only with partnerships, as Dr. Zarr indicates. So working with mayors, working with city planners, using what grant funding that we have, I think it's very doable. I mean, I think there's this whole initiative about red fields to green fields. So we look at assets within communities that are no longer economically viable, can be converted to parks. And we need to just look at it sort of geographically and say, fill in the gaps so that every community has a park or green space within a half a mile.
JARVISAnd then, working with the medical community to make sure that the public know that this is available to them.
REHMRich, here's an email for you from Suzanne. She says, "I also think people these days are too overly concerned, both about sun damage and Lyme disease to enjoy the outdoors." What do you say to that?
LOUVWell, those are real issues. Lyme disease is an issue. Certainly sun damage is, but you know, there is sunscreen. There is such a thing as tucking your pants into your socks and checking for ticks. And many communities have kind of figured out how to deal with that. There's also "Vitamin N" -- not "Vitamin N" deficiency, vitamin D deficiency, which is at the root of many terrible diseases, particularly after you become adults.
REHMBecause you haven't gotten enough sun.
LOUVYeah, that's right. And I think there are tradeoffs. One of the things that parents are so concerned about is risk. They're very worried that their kids are gonna get hurt.
LOUVAnd some of that is understandable. But our, you know, the news media, my profession, old profession, has really been scaring people to death. People believe there's far more stranger danger out there than there actually is, at least in most neighborhoods. That's one of the reasons why we can't dwell in nostalgia. We have to figure out new ways to connect to nature that really respect that fear. And that's many of the 500 things in "Vitamin N" address that. I talk about becoming a hummingbird parent. And if we have time I can explain that.
LOUVThere is a woman who wrote this, and I credit her in the book. And she said she was worried about becoming a helicopter parent, you know, hovering over a kid all the time. And she said, you know, what I really am is a hummingbird parent. And her definition of that is that she hangs back. She watches her kid from the kitchen window, at the back of the yard, at the edge of the trees or in the park she stays at a distance.
LOUVYou know, we're not talking about hovering over kids with nature flashcards. So as a hummingbird parent, you actually acknowledge, yes, you're worried about your child and you want your child to be safe. And as a hummingbird parent, she swoops in only when her kid is in mortal danger.
ZARRYou know, I -- Rich, I'm so glad you said earlier vitamin N deficiency, because, you know, we need to get…
LOUVNo, no, vitamin D deficiency.
ZARRYeah, but I actually like the idea of vitamin N deficiency because we…
LOUVWell, that's true.
ZARR…truly are -- we need to stop being afraid of asking these hard questions. You know, where do you spend your day? How do you spend your day? At school, at work. It's really important for us to know, as health providers, what your lifestyle is like. We are dying now because of lifestyle -- our poor lifestyle choices and our routines. That's killing us.
ZARRAnd it's important for us as medical professionals, public health professionals, to weigh the risks and benefits between staying inside all day and reducing your chance of being mugged versus dying of chronic disease because you never move outside.
REHMAll right. To…
ZARRSo this is important questions.
LOUVBy the way, Robert, as you know, I've talked about nature deficit disorder in all these books, but I really like this idea of vitamin N deficiency.
REHMYeah, I do, too.
JARVISOkay. Next book.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Douglas, in McLean, Va. You're on the air.
DOUGLASGood morning. The green schools in Finland are great. I know in Arlington, Va., they have the outdoor lab that takes kids out into the countryside, sometimes overnight. As for human parks, that's nice. But I grew up in the '60s, right on Great Fall Street, a few blocks from Haycock Road. And we had wilderness all around us, just a quarter of a mile away. There was one huge woods, that if you explored it there was this old junked car. And another one where we could find crayfish and guppies in this creek.
DOUGLASAnd another one that was swampy. And the stories from those places are great. And now the place with the car, it's all townhouses. And the creek is the Dulles Airport access road. And the swampy place is all townhouses. It's all gone. And when I go through that area in the neighborhood, I don't even see kids riding bicycles. And, you know, parents don't have time to take their kids everywhere. We need to be able to say to a kid, yeah, just go out and play in the woods.
DOUGLASAnd come back at 6:00 o'clock.
REHMThat's what they used to tell me. Dr. Zarr?
ZARRYou know, both children -- I love this comment. Both children and adults need time for unstructured play. We need to have time to decompress during the day, after the day is over. It's really important for us for our mental health to be doing that.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And now to Fryeburg, Maine. Carolyn, you're on the air.
CAROLYNThank you for taking my call, Diane.
CAROLYNI wanted to share with you all -- first of all, I love Richard Louv's books. And I pass them on whenever I can. I'm a middle school science teacher and I teach within the confines of a public school. But a few teachers and I have started a Maine Environmental Science Academy right in our school. It's play safe, experiential in nature and it's really changed the lives of our students.
CAROLYNWe bike ride to a nearby forest. We use the entire environment around our school. We're fortunate to be in a rural setting, however, I do feel that with proper teacher training at the college level, if more instructors could teach the future teachers in our classroom how to do something like this it could be revolutionary.
JARVISYes. We -- that's great, Carolyn. That's exactly where we are focused, in raising teacher awareness about the opportunity to use outdoor spaces in their curriculum, whether it's science or history or, you name it. There -- these places can evoke creative writing and poetry. And so…
REHMAnd certainly wake up a kid who may be getting very tired in the classroom.
JARVISWell, absolutely. And they, I mean, their sensory perceptions increase when they're in the outdoors. They learn more, the retain more. We know this. So, as a matter of fact, we've been working with Dr. Milton Chen, who is a very well-known author of "Education Nation," around utilization of our public parks and lands as a component of the education system in the nation as well. So all of this comes together, the Park Rx program, the recognition of the value of these places for public health and for public education at the same time. If we can bring all of those partners together, this could be a paradigm shift for the nation.
REHMI do think that…
LOUVCan I say that…
REHM…Barbara has an interesting point to make. She says, "There's a growing difference between being outside and being in nature. When I was kid growing up in New York City, children went out to play on their own. Just be back by dinner. This wasn't in nature, but it was active and healthy. Now, overstressed parents have to organize all activities to take kids out." Now, that's the challenge, making time for that, Dr. Zarr.
ZARRA good comment. So there's a spectrum here. And we have to be aware of that. And the spectrum, I say, is because, you know, you're dealing with situations where we can get some time outside, which is better than being inside. Being outside in a green area, is better than just being outside. Green outside -- being outside in a green area near a body of water, now we know from scientific literature, is the best.
ZARRSo there's variations here. And we have to be practical, as doctors, as health professionals, we are practical. We're trying to find a solution or a tweak that is amenable to that person's lifestyle and their willingness to make a change. And so if that's all they can do for that month, that's great. It's better than being indoors.
REHMSo important, this conversation, reminding all of us the importance of being outdoors and finding ways to make it creative and make it useful and healthful. Dr. Robert Zarr, he's a pediatrician at Unity Health Care in Washington. He's founder and director of D.C. Park Rx. Jonathan Jarvis is director of the National Park Service. Richard Louv, he wrote "Last Child in the Woods." His new book is "Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature Rich Life." Thank you all so much.
JARVISThank you, Diane.
ZARRThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.