Green space can reduce ADHD symptoms in children

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Tuesday, June 5, 2018
Helen Ward

In Canada, almost 4 out of 5 of us live in medium or large cities. Surrounded by buildings, concrete, traffic, noise, and pollution all day every day takes a toll on our physical and mental health, and on that of our children. Natural environments and green spaces are known to have positive impacts on children’s mental health. In cities, green space is often limited to parks, gardens, and playgrounds. These are not necessarily easy to get to, may be small, or of poor quality. In children unable to access green spaces, we see increased behavior problems.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is being diagnosed more frequently in children. Traits of ADHD include hyperactivity, inattention, or impulsive behavior. In Canada,  about 5% of school children have ADHD. At least another 5% have major problems with ADHD symptoms. Such behaviors have huge impacts on the lives of affected children and their families. Many rely on medications or behavioral therapy to control ADHD symptoms.

Urban green space and ADHD

Access to green space improves the mental well-being of children and helps with behavior and symptoms of ADHD. When living near good quality green spaces, children had lower “total difficulty” scores, including emotional symptoms, conduct problems, hyperactivity, and peer problems. School children living in areas with more green space had lower ADHD and inattention scores.  Furthermore, in children with ADHD, symptoms were reduced for those who had access to green space.

Children from poor households showed fewer ADHD-type symptoms, as long as they had access to urban green space. This is important for environmental health equity in the built environment. Although questions remain around green space as a therapy for ADHD, access to enough quality green space can help improve children’s ADHD symptoms. As such, access to and use of green space may be a promising therapy to help reduce and manage ADHD symptoms in children.

To ensure good quantity and quality of green space is included in the built environment, public health practitioners could engage with city planners and other healthy built environment professionals. In our fast-paced, city lifestyles, this could make a world of difference to children with ADHD and their families. Getting children outdoors into natural environments involves very little risk, but possibly much to gain.

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