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When you have something, it’s easy to take it for granted and assume everyone else has it, too.

But in our crazy disparate world, where the divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ is ever widening, the impact this has on all of us is confronting and worrying, especially regarding our kids’ futures.

Cue suspenseful music.

OK, the shocking statistic, as calculated by journalists from the Guardian newspaper, is a factor of 10 to one.

The average green space available to pupils at the UK’s top private schools (Eton, Winchester, Westminster, etc.) is 322 square metres.

That’s per pupil.

Contrast this to the average state school pupil with access to 32 square metres.

You may be thinking, it’s always been that way, Jenny. Those who can, are happy to pay for the privilege of their children attending a school with playing fields, a swimming pool and a strong emphasis on physical fitness. Because they recognise the benefits. But that doesn’t help those who can’t.

It’s no different here in Australia.

This disparity needs to be acknowledged and redressed because it’s well-recognised that a lack of access to green space impacts not just the opportunities to flourish in life—our environment plays a big role in shaping the person we become—but also our health.

 

The not-so-new news. 

The Marmot Review of Health Inequalities in England post-2010 highlighted the ongoing problem, specifically noting that reducing these requires policies, including ensuring every young child has the best start in life, nurturing healthy and sustainable communities and strengthening the role and impact of ill health prevention.

Taking action across all the social determinants of health is no easy task, so let’s remind ourselves of the role access to green space has on health and wellbeing.

  1. Lack of outdoor space is contributing to children developing lifelong health problems, including obesity (which is associated with 30 other diseases) and mental health problems. With children as young as five being diagnosed with anxiety, why aren’t we doing more to address this? Access to nature is good for kids and grown-ups.
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  3. Lack of access to outdoor sports means those kids don’t have the chance to learn and participate in team sports (an essential social skill), and it also sets up the mindset that exercise isn’t valued or encouraged.

    Even in those schools with the facilities, it’s frustrating to hear of reduced access to them because crowded curricula mean there’s no time for sport. Playing fields are being sold off or redeveloped. Keen kids are encouraged to practice or play outside school time. The keen kids try, but the less keen don’t.

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  5. Play stimulates learning, imagination, creativity, problem-solving, and mood and boosts mood. We all do so much better when we can access the Great Outdoors for some time each day. Whether you’re an adult or a child, we flourish when we can get outside. The minimum for adults is 120 minutes a week. If we really want our kids to do well academically, we can support their health development by greening up the classroom and enabling them to spend more time outside where possible.

For a child, this must be at least one hour daily.

What counts isn’t necessarily redistribution (and many of the top schools do already share their grounds) but seeking ways to increase the green space available or, at minimum, retain what they have for those that need it the most.

 

Ways to increase access to green space: 

  • Include one hour of daily playtime at work and play.
  • Play is brilliant for enhancing social skills. If you want your colleagues to get along better, start by encouraging interaction in an outdoor space or relaxation area that is full of plants.
  • Create community space – a sports hall, a library, a vegetable patch.
  • Create activities to get the kids involved.
  • Interact with Nature Play for more ideas.

 

As Michael Marmot said,

“creating a physical environment in which people can live healthier lives with a greater sense of wellbeing is a hugely significant factor in reducing health inequalities”.

 

We can do this. Where will you start to increase access to green space for all?

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, keynote speaker and best-selling author. You can now pre-order her new book ‘The Natural Advantage’ due for publication in October 2024.

One Comment

  • Hi Jenny. Thank you again for your focus on this important topic. As a long time educator and consultant, I have seen the many benefits of kids getting outside regularly, and the negative effects when this doesn’t happen. As well as providing access to space, we also need to support school staff to help them fit it into the curriculum. I love the work of NaturePlay WA – thanks for including the link. We are also working to show the increased peace within individuals and the within (school) community when there is increased learning outside. Let’s keep making this happen!

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