Joondalup Health Campus
Part of Ramsay Health Care


WA to adapt Hong Kong nature connectedness study

Feb 21, 2019

International guest speaker Dr Tanya Sobko visited Joondalup Health Campus (JHC) in February, sharing her research about the importance of connectedness with nature for pre-schoolers – something the ORIGINS Project Team hopes to adapt here in Western Australia in the near future

Dr Sobko works at the University of Hong Kong and has published some promising research that provides hard evidence of the link between mental health and time spent in nature.

Introducing Tanya was JHC Head of Paediatrics Professor Desiree Silva, Co-Director of the ORIGINS Project which is a collaboration between the Telethon Kids Institute and Joondalup Health Campus. It’s the largest study of its kind in Australia, following 10,000 families over the next decade to improve child and adult physical and mental health.

Professor Silva said research looking at nature connectedness in babies and preschool children is very much needed in Australia. “Some three quarters of kids these days can’t climb a tree,” Professor Silva said.  “We know that kids don’t go outside – but we really need to measure this and the impact it is having. Tanya has been such a strong advocate for this, focused on targeting early obesity.


Her presentation, “Promoting healthy lifestyle in pre-schoolers using a nature-based intervention program,” 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.

Tanya shared that in China today, waistlines are expanding twice as fast as the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and that diabetes rates are four times higher than in the USA.

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

“So 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.”

Nearly 500 families with children aged between two and five participated in the study, which found that 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 programme Play&Grow, which is the first in Hong Kong to promote healthy eating and active playtime with preschool children by connecting them to nature. Launched 2016, it has so far included almost 1000 families from all over Hong Kong.