The effects of a health promotion program using urban forests and nursing student mentors on the perceived and psychological health of elementary school children in vulnerable populations
A health promotion program combining forest therapy and nursing student mentors increased children’s self-esteem and decreased depression
Forest therapy, as a health promotion practice, is based on the understanding that spending time in a forest can support an individual’s health, happiness, and well-being. Research supports this understanding. The aim of this study was to develop and evaluate a health promotion program using urban forests and nursing student mentors as an intervention for vulnerable school-aged children in Korea. Previous research on nature-focused intervention has not looked specifically at children in Korea.
Two groups of elementary students in grades 4 to 6 from five community centers in Seoul participated in this study. One group (the experimental group) participated in an after-school health promotion program extending over a period of ten weeks. The other group (the control group) participated in their regular, more academic-focused (reading, math, English, art) activities. Both groups completed pre- and post-measures of psychosocial health. Most of the children attending after-school programs at community centers in Seoul are from low-income families.
The once-a-week sessions attended by the experimental group consisted of a 30-minute health education program and 60 minutes of urban forest activities. The program also included two forest day camp experiences. Topics addressed during the health education program included personal hygiene, nutrition, self-esteem, communication, and peer relationships. Forest activities included nature-focused crafts, group games, forest walking, and self-directed play. Seven undergraduate nursing students participated in the forest activities, serving as mentors to the elementary children. The research team overseeing the overall project were registered nurses with expertise in child health or psychiatric nursing. One member of the team was a certiﬁed forest therapist. External forest therapists conducted the two forest day camps. The pre- and post-measures included assessments of perceived health status, self-esteem, peer relationship, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity and heart rate variability.
Results showed signiﬁcant improvement in self-esteem and a signiﬁcant decrease in depressive symptoms in the experimental group compared to the control group. These results indicate that forest therapy programs may promote the psychosocial health of children. These findings are consistent with other research supporting engagement with nature as a health-promotion measure for children.