Is America becoming an indoor nation? New study begs question

or players in the outdoor recreation industry, the name of the game is getting people to play in nature.

On Wednesday at their biggest meeting place, the Outdoor Retailer trade show, they learned they might be failing.

According to a report unveiled at the Colorado Convention Center, less than half of Americans hike, bike, camp or participate in any of the 42 fresh-air activities considered in the Outdoor Foundation’s annual survey. Maybe 50% doesn’t sound bad, said Lise Aangeenbrug, executive director of the Outdoor Foundation, which commissioned the study.

“But when you really look at this and think about this, it’s 50% of Americans (saying) they went outside at least one time in the year. So what that means is 50% say they don’t go outside even once a year.”

And what’s “really disturbing,” she said, was the finding that there were 1 billion fewer outdoor trips in 2018 compared with a decade earlier, when the survey began.

The study asked 20,000 Americans their habits, split between adults and children. Of those, 18% were considered “moderate outdoor participants,” venturing out about once a week. That was 33% for at least once a month. Overall, trips were down 7.4% from the previous year.

“The frequency of outdoor activity among youth was equally worrisome,” the report reads. Kids’ outings have decreased by 15% from findings in 2012. And the trend doesn’t bode well for the future of public lands that need next-generation voters who care, Aangeenbrug said.

It all led to the question posed Wednesday at a seminar: “Is America becoming an indoor nation?”

Given the data and the well-documented benefits of outdoor activity, Aaron Reuben, a science writer out of Duke University, struggled to see trends in chronic disease and mental illness getting better — “unless we actively intervene.”

He moderated a panel discussion that included Jeff Bellows, the Massachusetts-based VP of corporate citizenship and public affairs for Blue Cross Blue Shield. Bellows pointed to a collaboration between for-profits and nonprofits to introduce inner-city kids to the outdoors.

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