People who feel more connected to nature eat healthier

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — Spending more time in nature, surrounded by greenery and wildlife, can work wonders for the mind and body, studies continue to show. In 2020, Canadian doctors even started “prescribing” trips to local national parks to improve patient well-being. Now, researchers from Drexel University suggest Mother Nature can help people eat healthier as well.

The study finds cultivating a strong sense of “nature relatedness” contributes to a greater dietary diversity and the consumption of more fruits and vegetables. In other words, the more in touch with nature you feel, the better you eat.

Nature relatedness has been associated with better cognitive, psychological and physical health and greater levels of environmental stewardship. Our findings extend this list of benefits to include dietary intake,” says lead study author Brandy-Joe Milliron, PhD, an associate professor in Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions, in a university release. “We found people with higher nature relatedness were more likely to report healthful dietary intake, including greater dietary variety and higher fruit and vegetable consumption.”

More diversity in the Philly diet

Researchers interviewed more than 300 adults from Philadelphia for this project between May and August 2017. The team asked about each person’s self-perceived connection to nature. More specifically, participants talked about their personal experiences with and perspectives on nature. To measure dietary diversity, as well as usual daily fruit and vegetable consumption, study authors also asked about foods and drinks consumed over the previous day.

Notably, the majority actually mirrored Philadelphia demographic characteristics according to the 2010 census. Those characteristics include education, gender, income level, and race.

All in all, an analysis of the survey provided a clear pattern: People with a stronger connection to nature eat a diverse diet featuring more fruits and vegetables.

“This work can impact health promotion practices in two ways,” Dr. Milliron explains. “First, nature-based health promotion interventions may increase nature relatedness across the lifespan and potentially improve dietary intake. And second, augmenting dietary interventions with nature-based activities may lead to greater improvements in dietary quality.”

In summation, this study is yet another showcase of how important nature is to each and every one of us. Getting outside more often and stopping to smell the roses (literally) can improve one’s life in a variety of ways. Still, study authors stress that more research is necessary.

“Future research should explore the ways different communities experience and value nature,” concludes study co-author Dane Ward, PhD, assistant teaching professor in the College of Arts and Sciences. “It needs to include how the intersections of environment, culture, race, history (including connection to land), social cohesion and other social and economic factors influence community identity relative to nature relatedness and dietary intake.”

The study is published in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

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