Nature Deficit Disorder: It’s Taking Over American Teens!

Nature Deficit DisorderNature Deficit Disorder, or NDD, is exactly what it sounds like: a condition caused by too much time spent away from the great outdoors. This disorder can be linked to many health problems: weight gain, diabetes, depression, poor sleep, attention problems, and poor problem-solving skills.

You’re probably wondering: Wait a minute – is this a real “disorder”?

Well, no, not really. NDD is not a medical condition in the same way as asthma or a broken leg. Rather, NDD is an idea that describes something that is happening to young people. “Nature Deficit Disorder” is just a clever term to catch people’s attention.

Many factors have caused this condition to become common among American teens. First, as we spend more time in front of screens – TVs, video games, computers, iPads, and smart phones – we spend less time doing other things, including spending time outside. The average teen spends over 6 hours a day in front of a screen! Second, we are spending more and more time on wheels (cars, subways, buses) to get us to and from school, to the store downtown, and even to our friend’s house a few blocks away. Most teens spend very little of their free time outdoors.

So how exactly does NDD lead to all those health problems?

It’s easy to see the connection between too much indoor time and obesity and diabetes – if you’re spending 6 hours a day in front of a glowing screen, you can’t possibly be moving around enough to stay healthy. However, we are learning more about the other health benefits of spending time outside. For instance, spending free time outdoors has been shown to improve people’s ability to concentrate and pay attention in school. Time spent in nature can improve your mood. And navigating the natural world, such as going hiking in the woods, can improve your self-confidence and problem-solving skills.

In short, spending time outdoors is healthy for you.

Now let’s talk about the cure for NDD. Luckily, you don’t need to live in the mountains to get the benefits of the great outdoors. Your backyard, a local park or wooded area, or even a tree-lined street can give you the right “dose” of nature. The next time you have some free time – either by yourself or with friends – put down the remote, game controller, iphone, or ipad, lace up your shoes, and go outside. The next time you need to run an errand or visit a friend’s house, walk there instead of getting in the car. If you feel unsafe in your neighborhood, plan an outing somewhere with a friend to a local park. They’ll probably enjoy the change of pace.

Also, use your summers wisely! This is a great time to restore the “nature deficit” that has built up during the school year. Go to a summer camp (as a camper or a counselor, depending on your age) or take advantage of programs offered by your city or town. Many programs offer free or reduced-price tuition. Visit the American Camp Association’s website for more information.

Good luck fighting Nature Deficit Disorder!