A study conducted in California examined whether park prescriptions could reduce stress in low-income families.
Stress is called the silent killer. It is one of the primary agents triggering heart disease, cancer, and various other conditions. Approximately 77% of people in America regularly experience physical symptoms brought about by stress. Up to 62% of stress is experienced due to concerns about work or money. In low-income families, these are prime concerns on a day-to-day basis.
Many low-income families lack social support, and access to the natural buffers against stress, which are present in the community. With 46.7 million living in poverty in the United States, finding innovative means of dealing with stress is an urgent need. The impact of nature and exposure to nature to reduce stress is a growing area of study. Quality of air, weather, landscape, running water, forests, flora, and fauna have all been identified as potential ways to reduce stress. A recent study conducted in the U.S. and published in the PLoS ONE Journal studied how being in nature affects stress in low-income families.
The study, conducted in Oakland, California, was called the Stay Healthy in Nature Every Day (SHINE) study. They specifically tested how park prescription programs affect stress to examine the health and behavioral outcomes in pediatric patients and their families belonging to low-income groups.
Previous studies are lacking in concrete findings of low-income families and how one can reduce stress in these groups. These families often have barriers to accessing leisure time and often have the least access to nature.
For the study, the patients included two randomized groups totalling 78 families, wherein one group with 50 families had organized outings in nature, with food, programming and transportation provided. The other group of 28 families had a park prescription with no group visits.
The researchers determined the sample size to detect differences in parental stress using the PSS10 (Perceived Stress Score) as well as a 10-item Likert scale to gather the data for the research. They performed measurements at zero, one, and three months after enrolment in the program and incentives for enrolment and visits for follow up were at $20, $20, and $40 for both groups of participants. In the groups, 68 were women with a mean age of 38 years, 95% of the population was non-white, and the majority lived below 200% of the federal poverty line.
Nature Visits Led to Lower Stress Levels
The study results reported a significant and noticeable reduction in stress levels and improvement in park visits, physical activity, loneliness, physiologic stress, and nature-affinity over the three-month study trial period. Park prescriptions are a significant and promising tool for addressing stress in low-income parents, which are in need for better community-support programs to reduce stress. A paradoxical finding of the study was that improvement in stress did not differ based on the group, and the independent group surprisingly had the greater number of park visits. This study was among the first to examine nature affinity as a health outcome and further research will aid in increased relationships with nature as well as increased environmentalism via clinicians.
Written by Sonia Leslie Fernandez, Medical News Writer
Reference: Razani, N., Morshed, S., Kohn, M. A., Wells, N. M., Thompson, D., Alqassari, M., … & Rutherford, G. W. (2018). Effect of park prescriptions with and without group visits to parks on stress reduction in low-income parents: SHINE randomized trial. PloS one, 13(2), e0192921.