Could nature cure obesity?
Researchers from North Carolina have found people who live in natural areas are thinner compared to those who live in areas with few hills, lakes and other natural surroundings. In an investigation the scientists found lower rates of obesity in areas with access to nature.
Linking communities to natural surroundings could promote physical activity
The finding has prompted the researchers to suggest more could be done to link people to natural surroundings, which in turn could boost physical activity and help curb obesity rates.
In the study, the researchers found a person's surroundings have a direct impact on how much physical activity they get.
Stephanie Jilcott, an assistant professor at the Department of Public Health at East Carolina University said “We’re trying to figure out whether the places themselves encourage activity or people who want to be active move to these places."
When the researchers looked at body mass index in 100 North Carolina counties, they found BMI to be .47 points higher in areas without natural areas such as hills and lakes.
The results, which appear in the American Journal of Health Promotion, suggests county leaders may want to look at what natural amenities are available within communities to promote physical activity.
Deborah Cohen, a senior natural scientist at RAND Corporation who studies how the environment affects health said “it could be that people who like to exercise or pay more attention to their diets choose to live in places that support their lifestyle."
Jilcott suggests county leaders should take a close look at enhancing natural surrounding to encourage people to get out an enjoy more exercise.
For example, if the county is flat, but has access to water, parks and recreation departments could attempt low-cost investments in encouraging residents to be active in and around the water.”
The researchers also took into account poverty level, ethnicity and age of residents in the North Carolina counties. The finding shows it may be possible to lower obesity rates simply by providing more access to nature. Past studies show a variety of health benefits that come from getting out and spending time in natural surroundings.
The benefits of reconnecting with a natural environment extend way beyond just promoting physical activity.
Michael J. Cohen, Ed.D., Ph.D., the founder of Project NatureConnect and an ecopsychologist, has been exploring and teaching nature's healing gifts for 50 plus years.
According to Cohen:
"It is negligent for us to have, readily available, the means to safely help a life at risk and not offer that help. In light of the deteriorating state of life on Earth and the poor quality of life of many people, we are negligent if we do not to learn and teach educating, counseling and healing with nature. It is a powerful remedy and preventative that enables us to increase personal, social and environmental well being."
The new study merely lends more evidence to the notion that taking away society's natural surroundings has caused harm, contributing to a variety of ills. The researchers say the study doesn't prove natural areas promote more exercise and lower rates of obesity, but it does raise questions that should prompt further research and intervention from individual communities.