Nature and Health Laboratory

Current Research

Research

See Erin Largo-Wight Research Gate for more and links to articles.

Our research is focused on the impact of nature on human health (nature and well-being), as well as the impact people have on the environment (behavioral research). This research is based off of the environmental and public health concept 'One Health', which recognizes the reciprocal relationship between the environment and people.  In addition, this dual research focus is aligned with the 'Health by Design' framework, which assumes that creating healthy places (with nature contact) is a practical and meaningful way to promote health and facilitate healthy lifestyles. Past and current research agendas are presented below.

Nature and Health 

Most people agree that spending time in nature feels good. People from varying demographic groups and cultures overwhelmingly agree that nature makes them feel better, and that nature is preferred (see environmental preference literature). The scientific literature supports this assumption that nature contact and health are correlated, but we are still working to build the scientific evidence to confidently inform policy. Since 2005, we have been working to better understand the impact of nature on health through two approaches - experimental designs (testing the impact of nature versus not nature in different settings) and research focused on measurement (Nature Contact Questionnaire 2011 example). We are working on these questions... What is nature? How do forms and doses of nature compare in terms of health outcomes? What health outcomes are most sensitive to nature? Does nature exposure have different effect on people based on demographics?  What is the minimum "dose" of nature to experience benefits? How does nature in a setting (school, workplace, hospital, home, community, etc) compare to the same place without nature? (see below for example settings)

  • Healthy Schools / Nature at School.  Children today have less contact with nature than ever before. Unfortunately, this disconnect with nature has health, stress, and well-being and cognitive consequences for children. One opportunity for contact with nature is at school through an outdoor classroom. Our past research found that children learning language arts in an outdoor classroom had greater attention, behavior, and well-being than children in the indoor classroom. Feasibility of using the outdoor classroom on a daily basis , teacher and student perception of using an outdoor classroom, and best practices for community-based participatory research were also examined.
  • Health Workplaces / Nature at Work.  Workplaces free of environmental stressors that also have the opportunity for nature contact support employee well-being and facilitate productivity. Our past research found employees with greater contact with nature in their office (plants, natural light, view from the window, outdoor breaks, etc) and fewer reported stress and health complaints.  We also found employees that took a 10-minute work break daily for six weeks saw health improvements and those that took an outdoor work break (compared to indoor work break) had significant decrease in stress and health complaints.
  • 'Healthy' Healthcare / Nature in Healthcare. Nature contact has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety and promote recovery among patients. Health-promoting nature contact can be accomplished through 'nature prescription' by connecting patients with nature (in community parks, on site gardens, etc) and by 'brining the outdoors in'.  Our past research found that even listening to recorded sounds of nature in a waiting room or office for as little as seven minutes resulted in physiological and self-reported indicators of stress.
  • Healthy Communities / Green Space and Parks. Healthy communities have green (and blue, brown, and white...) natural spaces and parks. Parks are purposeful and provide critical access to nature for active (recreation and physical activity) and passive (restoration and stress reduction) health benefits. Our published nature contact health recommendations literature review highlights the research evidence on the power of nature from a health-perspective and the need to advocate for preserving green spaces and parks for health.
  • Nature Prescription. There is a wealth of literature that suggests nature contact and spending time outdoors is health-promoting and stress-reducing. Past findings indicate that clinical patients may especially benefit from time outdoors and contact with nature. What is the impact of different forms of nature experiences and or nature exposures on patients' health and wellbeing? Do healthcare providers prescribe nature? With Jacksonville's unique green and blue infrastructure and tremendous park system and with support from partners such as Timucuan Parks Foundation, we are working to answer these questions.
  • Nature Contact (Flowers) and Stress Among Women.  We explored the iWoman Enjoying Flowersmpact of flowers, a form of nature contact (video overview of study). A representative sample of 170 women completed in-depth stress and health surveys for 12 consecutive days. In the middle of the study, women were randomized into one of three conditions: flower delivery (flower arrangement delivered to home), comparison delivery (luxury candle of similar value delivered to home), and no delivery (control). Results suggest that living with flowers - even just for a few days - resulted in a significant reduction in reported stress. Brining nature indoors appears to be one simple and practical way to create healthy interiors.
  • Nature contact and Health Behavior Modeling. Understanding and predicting health behavior is central to the social behavioral core of public health. Purposeful nature contact behavior is an emerging health behavior that is not well understood. We are explored the predictive model of MTM (Multi Theory Model) of nature contact behavior. Article.  Building off of this, we are also working on a second study to better understand sunscreen and sun exposure behaviors and related environmental risk behaviors among beach goers in Florida.

Sustainability and Health

Human health is dependent on a healthy Earth; clean air, water, soil are building blocks for health. This research is based on the assumption that behavior and consumption impacts environmental outcomes, and that behavior change is a winning solution to tackle environmental issues. In this line of work, we apply behavioral science methods and theories to model and explain environmental and sustainability behaviors (study determinants of behaviors) and to test interventions aimed to increase environmental behaviors (design and test interventions aimed at changing behavior) with the ultimate goal of increased environmental behavior. .

  • Theories of Health Behavior and Environmental Behaviors. It is well understood that education, awareness, and communication alone do not change behavior.  Here we study the science of behavior change with a specific focus on the following determinants of change: self-presentation, behavioral ease and control, identity management, clustered healthy lifestyle, etc. We explored several environmental behavior change interventions and programs focused on improving recycling, gardening, active commuting, reducing resource consumption (reduce single use), reducing toxic exposures, etc.
  • Reduce Single Use (Plastic).  An interdisciplinary team from University of North Florida and Eckerd College concluded a two-year study (2021-2023) aimed to reduce single-use plastic behaviors on both campuses. The study is funded by NOAA Marine Debris Program (press release). The study involved outreach and education (events facilitated by UNF Institute of Environmental Research and Education - Reduce Single Use UNF), academic opportunities, and plastic reduction challenges all aimed to change attitudes, values, beliefs about single-use plastic and ultimately aimed to reduce single-use plastic behaviors. Our published findings showed that making a simple pledge to reduce single use plastic resulted in effective behavior change (less plastic use), whereas other more elaborate behavior interventions were not successful.
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