AARHUS, Denmark — As technology seems to consume more and more of a child’s life these days, getting them out into the fresh air can be a priority for many parents. Now, a recent study finds growing up around nature may be even more important to a youngster’s development. Researchers in Denmark say children who grow up with plenty of green spaces around are less likely to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Their report, the largest of its kind to date, reveals the amount of green space surrounding a child’s home influences their chances of suffering from the disorder. ADHD is one of the most common psychiatric conditions among children and can affect them in different ways.
The reason behind who develops ADHD, which can cause increased levels of hyperactive or impulsive behavior, is still not fully clear to doctors. Study authors decided to examine how environmental areas around where children and teenagers live affects their risk of receiving an ADHD diagnosis.
“Our findings show that children who have been exposed to less green surroundings in their residential area in early childhood, which we define as lasting up until age five, have an increased risk of receiving an ADHD diagnosis when compared to children who have been surrounded by the highest level of green space,” explains doctoral student Malene Thygesen from Aarhus University in a media release.
Nature can have a powerful impact on mental health
Experts believe ADHD may be a hereditary condition, but other factors also can play a role in its development. For this reason, there are strong arguments for research into the causes of children developing these behavioral changes. Previous studies have discovered a link between children’s mental well-being and cognitive development and their access to green spaces.
“In the study we adjusted for gender, age, the child’s year of birth, and the parents’ psychiatric diagnosis and socio-economic status, and neighborhood level socio-economic status,” Thygesen says. “Our study is strong because it includes many individuals and because the information is very detailed. For example, we use data based on clinical diagnoses of ADHD made by specialists.”
“It’s interesting to think that living in green environments may be a protective factor for children in relation to the risk of developing ADHD,” the lead researcher continues.
Is your neighborhood helping or hurting a child’s development?
Aarhus University researchers worked with a team from mental health foundation iPSYCH to collect their data. Scientists examined data on the addresses of more than 800,000 youths born from 1992 through 2007. They also looked at information on clinical ADHD diagnoses starting at age five until 2016.
In addition, researchers used a specific measurement of how green the environment around a household is — the “normalized differential vegetation index.” This measurement places a home in the middle of a square area with nearly 700 feet on each side. On this basis, the index calculates how green the surrounding area is in each child’s neighborhood.
Although study authors discovered an apparent connection between green spaces and ADHD, they admit a single study does not provide concrete evidence yet. However, the team notes their results are still in line with other studies on the environment’s role in ADHD risk.
The findings appear in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
SWNS writer Chris Dyer contributed to this report.