Climate Health

Finland daycare centre builds mini forest and sees children immunity improving


HQ Team

December 12, 2022:High degree of urbanization, helicopter parenting, and disease outbreaks have led to a large number of children growing up in a very sanitized world where playtime is highly supervised. Insufficient contact with nature reduces diversity in the organ system’s microbes, and this leads to children falling sick at the slightest contact with germs.

Studies have previously found that children who live in rural areas and are in contact with nature have a lower probability of catching an illness resulting from disorders in the immune system. A recent study involving daycare children in Finland found that regular playing in a natural environment diversified the organ system’s microbes and offered protection against diseases. During the study, forest undergrowth, lawn turf and planter boxes, in which children planted and tended crops, were introduced to the children play areas at daycare centres.

The study participants included 75 daycare children of three to five years who were monitored for one month at ten daycare centres in Lahti and Tampere in Finland. Changes in microbes in children who attended daycare centres with green yard areas were compared with children who attended normal daycare centres (no green yard area) or nature daycare centres (no green yard area but regular field trips).

Contact with nature repeated five times a week for one month increased microbial diversity in children’s skin. There were also changes in blood counts, an increase in gammaproteobacteria, which strengthen the skin’s immune defence, and strengthened their immune defence systems. 

The research groups of Heikki Hyöty, professor of virology, and Juho Rajaniemi, professor of urban planning, from the University of Tampere participated in the study.

“This recently published study of daycare children is the first in which these changes offering protection against diseases have been found when adding diversified aspects of nature to an urban environment”, says Aki Sinkkonen, research scientist at Luke, who led the study published in Science Advances.

 “The results of this study are encouraging when looking for new opportunities for the prevention of immune system disorders. Further studies aimed to reach this goal are already underway”, Heikki Hyöty says.    

 “This supports the assumption that contact with nature prevents disorders in the immune system, such as autoimmune diseases and allergies”, Sinkkonen says.

“We also found that the intestinal microbiota of children who received greenery was similar to the intestinal microbiota of children visiting the forest every day,” says dissertation researcher Marja Roslund from the University of Helsinki.

Sinkkonen is of the opinion that daycare centres should have green areas because this will improve the regulation of children’s immune systems in only a month. Motor skills and ability to concentrate will also improve, he added.

According to Juho Rajaniemi, the study shows that an enjoyable living environment that improves well-being can be built at low costs.

Microbes offer protection

Contact with nature exposes us to a  broad range of microbes, activating different parts of our defensive system and helps in the natural development of the immune system.

Green spaces should be incorporated in all urban settings. They can be shrubs and forest undergrowth. Decaying leaves, similar shrubs, and grass should be left intact for some time. “We should modify our daily life so we can be in contact with nature. It would be best if children could play in puddles and everyone could dig organic soil. We could take our children out to nature five times a week to have an impact on microbes”, Sinkkonen says.

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