There have been numerous studies that positively link public health and accessibility to nature. Conservation design utilizes large open spaces often with biking and walking trails, organized recreation options and preserved habitats that give direct and equal access to the community's residents. In more urban environments, roof top gardens, strategic native landscaping and city parks can provide direct accessibility to nature as well. Other CMAP strategy papers have already demonstrated the clear link between public health and walking, bicycling, and park access; conservation design serves as one more example.
These health benefits are especially important for children who are still developing both mentally and physically. The exposure to natural environments creates cognitive, social, and emotional benefits such as increased creativity, problem-solving, focus, self discipline, cooperation, flexibility and self awareness, stress reduction, reduced aggression and increased happiness all of which contribute to the overall health in children (Burdette, 2005). For example surveys show that context of location is directly connected to the severity of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) symptoms. Activities such as playing sports or reading outdoors or in a green setting reduced AD/HD symptoms in comparison to the same activities indoors or in a non-green setting. AD/HD now affects up to 7% of children, who at times can display symptoms including impulsive, outburst-prone and/or aggressive behavior. Adding trees and vegetation can be a simple way to supplement conventional treatment while improving behavior and social functioning (Faber et al 2001, 54-77) (Kuo and Faber 2004, 1580-1586). Additionally, unstructured free play in a natural environment can physically improve the health of children. Today's concern about the "obesity epidemic" in young children is validated by the fact that in the past decade, the percentage of obese youth has tripled (The Children and Nature Network).
Local Spotlight: A current Chicago Wilderness initiative called Leave No Child Inside is embarking on the vital goal of reconnecting children to nature. One of the documented benefits of the program is improved health as a result of natural outdoor exposure. For more information visit: http://www.kidsoutside.info/index.htm.