Nature–based health interventions take a variety of forms, are designed around a range of health and well-being goals, and target different groups of people

Shanahan, D. F., Astell–Burt, T., Barber, E. A., Brymer, E., Cox, D. T. C., Dean, J., et al. (2019). Nature-based interventions for improving health and wellbeing: The purpose, the people and the outcomes. Sports, 7.

The academic literature includes numerous studies about nature–based health interventions (NBIs) – that is, “programmes, activities or strategies that aim to engage people in nature–based experiences with the specific goal of achieving improved health and wellbeing.” This study used a Delphi expert elicitation process to identify the different forms that such interventions take, the potential health outcomes of these interventions, and the target beneficiaries. Nineteen experts from seven countries participated in the process.

The Delphi technique uses a structured interactive process for building consensus around a topic. The process usually includes several rounds of questions. This study was based on three rounds of questionnaires. The nineteen experts who participated in the study are scientists and/or health practitioners representing a diversity of disciplines and who are actively publishing research relating to the broad field of nature and human health.

The initial questionnaire included a list of NBIs identified through a review of the literature.  During Round 1, participants were asked to review and refine the list of interventions. They were also invited to add intervention types and comment on the definition, goals, and target beneficiaries of each NBI. Rounds 2 and 3 were devoted to developing a consensus on the different types of NBIs, their intervention goals and intended outcomes, and groups targeted for intervention.

Twenty-seven NBIs were identified through this process. The interventions were broadly categorized into (1) those that change the environment and (2) those that change behavior.  Changing the environment included such initiatives as providing gardens in hospitals and parks in cities. NBIs designed to change behavior included such nature-related programs as park prescriptions and wilderness therapy. Target beneficiaries of the NBIs ranged from preschool through elderly adults. Intervention goals included a broad range of physical, mental, emotional and social health-related outcomes.

The list developed through this research indicates, not only what types of NBIs are available, but also specific health outcomes that might be achieved and for whom the interventions are designed. While more research is needed to identify factors influencing the effectiveness of NBIs, decision–makers in government, non–government organizations, and other interested groups may find this list of interventions helpful in their efforts to promote the health and well-being of people in their communities.

Research Partner