New study shows Americans’ deep appreciation for nature, barriers to connection

Contact with nature important part of growing up and linking Americans to one another; competing priorities and other factors impede getting outdoors

The findings from an unprecedented national study of Americans’ relationship to nature reveal an alarming disconnection, but also widespread opportunities for reconnecting. The results are prompting nature conservation, environmental education, and outdoor recreation leaders to expand how they work to connect people with nature.

The Nature of Americans National Report: Disconnection and Recommendations for Reconnection reveals important insights from a study of nearly 12,000 adults, children, and parents, and provides actionable recommendations to open the outdoors for all.

Americans encounter a number of society-wide forces disconnecting them from nature. Americans face competing priorities for their time, attention, and money. They live in places that often have more concrete than green space. It is increasingly normal to spend little time outside.

  • More than half of adults report spending five hours or less in nature each week, and most are satisfied with this minimal amount of time. Many parents and older adults lament that children today are growing up with limited opportunities to experience nature.
  • Parents say their children spend three times as many hours with computers and TVs each week as they do playing outside.
  • Hispanic, black, and Asian adults report additional barriers to the outdoors, including greater concerns about safety, a lack of enough places nearby to enjoy the outdoors, and few friends to be with outdoors.

Despite these challenges, there is opportunity. Americans of all backgrounds recognize that nature helps them grow healthy, be happy, and enjoy family and friends. Adults and children enjoy their time in nature. They feel affection for nature, are attracted to its beauty, appreciate its resources, and value its role in intellectual and spiritual development.

  • Over three-quarters of adults rate contact with nature as very or extremely important for their physical health and emotional outlook.
  • One-quarter of parents surveyed say contact with nature has improved their child’s ailments, including anxiety, asthma, attention span, blood pressure, and energy.
  • Three-quarters of adults support increasing the number of programs for Americans to enjoy nature, the outdoors, and wildlife. More than one-half think programs for Americans to enjoy nature and wildlife are underfunded.
  • Seven out of 10 children surveyed would rather explore woods and trees than play on neat-looking grass. Eight out of 10 like activities such as climbing trees and camping.

Restoring Americans’ connection to nature requires overcoming the gap between interest and action. The Nature of Americans report details 22 recommendations for restoring Americans’ connection to nature, including:

  • Nature is social. Promote ways for people to routinely enjoy nature with friends and family.
  • “Good” connections to nature do not have to take place far away from home. Redefine meaningful time in nature to include nearby experiences.
  • The barriers that disconnect Americans from nature are significant and society-wide. Restoring Americans’ relationship with nature will require collaboration not only within the nature conservation community, but across broad sectors of American society such as healthcare, education, transportation, urban planning and community development.

The core premise of these recommendations is that connection to nature is not a dispensable amenity but, rather, is essential to the health, economic prosperity, quality of life, and social wellbeing of all Americans. In other words, the conservation of species, the protection and restoration of habitats, and the provision of healthy landscapes and access to them are inextricably linked to human flourishing.

The Nature of Americans is led by DJ Case & Associates. It builds on the late Dr. Stephen R. Kellert’s research on the importance of contact with nature to human wellbeing. This unique public–private collaborative is sponsored by the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Disney Conservation Fund, Morrison Family Foundation, Wildlife Management Institute, and Yale University.

More information and reports are available at NatureofAmericans.org.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit fws.gov. Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.