Waterfall photo

What is Nature Deficit Disorder?

Oh, great! Another disorder. What is Nature Deficit Disorder? Do I have it? How do I get rid of it? Wait, what is it?

Description of Nature Deficit Disorder

Nature Deficit Disorder was described by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. In his book, he described the reduction in outdoor nature time resulting in behavioral and physiological problems, mostly in children. Louv doesn’t go over the behavioral and psychological problems in detail in the book, however he discusses the myriad of factors that contribute to the decrease in nature time.

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv.

It is important to understand how much things have changed. Consider the American frontier and the expansion of the West in the 17th century. Nature was a major part of the culture of the time.  Frontier life was full of work immersed in nature. Land needed to be cleared, farms developed, hunting for food was a part of life, and the building of one’s homes was a part of this time. Life was synonymous with nature. It was nature. Since this time, there has been a separation from nature. Cities were built, roads were paved, and suddenly there were urban and suburban environments. We went from horse and train to auto, plane and train.

The Baby Boomer generation continued to be connected to nature as it was part of the culture. Richard Louv was a Baby Boomer and grew up spending countless hours outdoors in unstructured play – a lot like me. Although I am technically not a baby boomer cause I am a young guy (sigh), I grew up like a baby boomer in this regard. I spent the majority of daylight hours outside running through creeks and open spaces, building forts in the backyard and playing numerous outdoor sports. Unstructured time in nature was a part of me, and I even brought nature indoors, keeping aquariums in my room. At one point, I had more than 10 aquariums stacked in by bedroom. I was fascinated by fish and still am, leading to a career in fish biology.

It is difficult for me to fully reconcile the difference between my upbringing and that of the current generation.  Richard Louv’s book helped me understand the change that has occurred since my younger years in the 1970s. I grew up at a time when it was still considered relatively safe to play outdoors, and in a neighborhood with open spaces to play. The erosion of outdoor time has been a slow process over time and is related to many factors. The fear of kidnapping and other crimes against children and the spread of such things through the media has fostered a fear of letting children roam on their own. The presence of homeless in many communities increases the fear of outdoor play. Heightened private property rights and trespassing problems make outdoor play even more difficult. While I used to explore construction sites for nails and roam behind neighborhoods, this type of activity is rarely allowed today. As cities became more crowded and dense, the connection to the wild decreased.

The lure of video games and television further pulled children inside. The personal computer that came in the 1980s, the internet, and the cell phone that came soon after made it possible to see nature, but not experience it. The social media revolution and the continued trend of more screen time lines up with decreases in outside time. The iPhone, Facebook, Twitter, and social media boomed, holding people of all ages in front of the screen. Nature was forgotten by many. Wild places were less common, often unknown to generations. Other than organized sports, getting outside in nature for free play is rare indeed. For example, many kids in my city don’t even know there is a large river running through the city with a significant salmon run.

Research on the Effect of Nature Deficit Disorder

Research continues to find negative consequences of reducing time in nature. Consider the scientific research behind the claims of Nature Deficit Disorder. Obesity was present in 19.7% of children between 2 and 19 years of age between 2017 and 2020 (CDC 2022). That means nearly 1 in 5 kids are obese. Many are experiencing associated conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Dwyre (2015) found a direct correlation between obesity and reduced contact with nature. The more children sat on the couch, and the less outdoor play, the more obesity. Dwyer also found a direct correlation with mental ailments including autism and depression, and social and behavioral difficulties. Consider as well, the relationship to anxiety and behavioral disorders to suicide (Nepon et al. 2010). Note the alarming suicide rate in the United States. Nature Deficit Disorder is a real problem

Research also shows that one can be cured of Nature Deficit Disorder. Warber et al. (2015) found improved health and well-being following a four-week wilderness camp, including reduced stress levels, greater positive emotions,  and a sense of “wholeness”. All is not lost. We can overcome this problem.

The Coronavirus pandemic starting in 2019 also presented a unique challenge to getting outdoors. At first, many just hunkered down and survived through the pandemic in isolation on their devices. Kids and adults of all ages had been driven inside like never before, however it soon became evident that outdoor time could be done with little contact with others, allowing outdoor recreation and reducing the chances of catching COVID-19. The outdoors became the pandemic escape. Outdoor recreation exploded. The Associated Press (2021) reported:

In addition, the Associated Press found inactivity decreased substantially during the first full year of the pandemic.  Penn State found a 20% increase in outdoor activity during the pandemic as well.

Home Gardening Can Help

What is homesteading?

In addition, gardening was discovered as a refuge during the pandemic, offering a safe escape from struggles and challenges. It was the return of the garden (Marsh et al. 2021). There was a spike in gardening sales and presumably gardening as a means of keeping oneself occupied, isolated, and lowering overall anxiety. These trends were seen in multiple countries and thought to be experienced worldwide. Top values of gardening during the pandemic were a connection to nature, stress relief, and outdoor activity. This is a promising trend in my opinion, however, the changes were primarily demonstrated in older individuals.

Gardening is a wonderful way to get out doors and experience nature in the safety of your backyard. You can experience the song of birds at sunrise, the sound of the breeze through the trees, and the smell of soil. Planting, watering, digging, pruning, weeding in the elements is therapy for the soul. How about watching a gourd grow to humongous proportions right before your eyes? Growing a pumpkin would be a wonderful quest!

I published Backyard Big: Growing Food in Your Backyard in June 2022. This is a beginners book that helps the aspiring gardener get outside and find success. It is complete with a month-by-month schedule of tasks including sowing, seeding, planting, harvesting, and more. Getting outside in the garden is a lifestyle choice. See my other posts related to gardening in your backyard, such a Ten Reasons Why it is Good to Grow Your Own Food, or Unlocking Homesteading: A Deep Dive into the Lifestyle.


Associated Press. 2021. Outdoor activities boom in US amid COVID-19 pandemic. Reported March 13, 2021.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 2022. Childhood Obesity Facts. Accessed on line at cdc.gov on September 3, 2022.

Louv, Richard. 2005. Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. London: Atlantic Books.

Cortez S, Diekmann L, Egerer M, Kingsley J, Lin B, Marsh P and A. Ossola. 2022. Gardening during COVID-19: Experiences from Gardeners around the World. UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Dwyre, Vanessa J., 2015. Nature Deficit Disorder and the Need for Environmental Education. Student Theses 2015-Present. 11.

Marsh, Pauline & Diekmann, Lucy & Egerer, Monika & Lin, Brenda & Ossola, Alessandro & Kingsley, Jonathan. 2021. Where birds felt louder: The garden as a refuge during COVID-19. Wellbeing, Space and Society. 2. 100055. 10.1016/j.wss.2021.100055.

Nepon J, Belik SL, Bolton J, Sareen J. The relationship between anxiety disorders and suicide attempts: findings from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Depress Anxiety. 2010 Sep;27(9):791-8. doi: 10.1002/da.20674. PMID: 20217852; PMCID: PMC2940247.

Warber S, DeHudy A, Bilk M, Mareslle M and K Irvine. 2015. Addressing “Nature-Deficit Disorder”: A Mixed Methods Pilot Study of Young Adults Attending a Wilderness Camp. Hindi. 13 pages.

Photo Caption: A waterfall in Yosemite National Park will leave you speechless and remind you of the importance of experiencing nature.

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