February 7, 2023 – Why, where, and how people seek to spend time in nature has to do with where they live, their childhood experiences in the outdoors, and barriers to engaging with nature, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Linda Powers Tomasso.
Tomasso, a research fellow in the Department of Environmental Health, led a qualitative study published in September 2022 in PLOS ONE that explored how people form perceptions toward nature and how they engage with it. She wrote about the study in a February 1 article in Boston University’s Public Health Post.
Based on focus group discussions with 127 people from a range of backgrounds and neighborhoods across the U.S., Tomasso and her team found that participants’ engagement with nature was strongly influenced by where they grew up and by people and organizations who introduced them to the outdoors.
People who grew up or had childhood vacations near untamed nature, such as state or local parks, or who spent time at summer camp, had opportunities to participate in free exploration outdoors, which shaped a lifelong affinity for wilderness, the researchers found. Barriers to spending time in nature included busy work or study schedules, child-raising, or lack of motivation.
Those who faced the greatest barriers to engaging with nature included urban or low-income groups. Individuals in these groups were less likely to have spent time in nature at a young age or to have nature-inclined mentors. Among some urban individuals of color, barriers included feeling socially excluded or marginalized in green spaces, or feeling uncomfortable or unsure around nature given their lack of mentorship surrounding it. Tight finances, not owning a car, inefficient transit systems, sidewalk disrepair, and safety concerns also prevented some from spending more time outdoors.
Tomasso urged a focus on making nature more accessible for all. “Democratizing nature use will require attention to cultivating affinity for nature, as well as improving easy access to green spaces within cities and suburbs,” she wrote.
Read the Public Health Post article: Democratizing Nature Exposure for Better Health
Read the PLOS ONE study: Implications of disparities in social and built environment antecedents to adult nature engagement