Hong Kong researcher highlights importance of nature for children during Joondalup Health Campus visit

Joondalup Health Campus head of paediatrics Professor Desiree Silva with nature connectedness researcher Dr Tanja Sobko.
Joondalup Health Campus head of paediatrics Professor Desiree Silva with nature connectedness researcher Dr Tanja Sobko.

JOONDALUP Health Campus’s Origins Project team hopes to adapt Hong Kong research on how nature improves preschoolers’ behaviour to WA.

International guest speaker Tanja Sobko visited the hospital this month to share her research, conducted at the University of Hong Kong, and has published evidence of the link between mental health and time spent in nature.

Head of paediatrics and Origins co-director Desiree Silva introduced Dr Sobko for her presentation ‘Promoting healthy lifestyle in preschoolers using a nature-based intervention program’.

Professor Silva said research looking at nature connectedness in babies and preschool children was needed in Australia.

“Some three quarters of kids these days can’t climb a tree,” she said.

“We know that kids don’t go outside – but we really need to measure this and the impact it is having.

“Tanja has been such a strong advocate for this, focused on targeting early obesity.”

Dr Sobko’s presentation defined healthy lifestyle as including proper sleeping, personal hygiene, absence of bad habits or addictions, health education, a safe environment, physical fitness, social support, emotional wellbeing and proper diet.

“Previously we have not thought it possible to measure connectedness in nature in preschool children, mostly due to the fact they are too young to answer for themselves,” Dr Sobko said.

“We developed a 16-item parent questionnaire based on four areas that reflect the child-nature relationship: enjoyment of nature, empathy for nature, responsibility towards nature, and awareness of nature.”

The study involved nearly 500 families with children aged between two and five and found children with close connections to nature experience less distress, less hyperactivity, few behavioural and emotional difficulties and improved pro-social behaviour.

The study is part of Dr Sobko’s research-based program Play&Grow, the first in Hong Kong to promote healthy eating and active playtime with preschool children by connecting them to nature.

The Origins Project is a collaboration between the Telethon Kids Institute and Joondalup Health Campus and the largest study of its kind in Australia, following 10,000 families over a decade to improve child and adult physical and mental health.