Television versus trees

MONTPELIER -- A second national study in as many years, funded by The Nature Conservancy, confirms a growing trend: more American families are spending time in front of the television and away from the great outdoors. Vermont's reputation as an environmental-friendly and outdoor-oriented society is at risk. While the Green Mountain state still resists the decline, evidence of so-called 'videophilia' is growing.

Researchers have found that "videophilia," as they call it, can have disturbing implications for children's mental and physical health, educational achievement, well-being, and their personal values and priorities later in life. The study, published last month in the Journal of Development Processes, also cited serious consequences for the future of conservation.

"The greatest threat to conservationmay be more subtle than bulldozers and chainsaws," wrote authors Patricia Zaradic, Ph.D and Oliver Pergams, Ph.D. "Direct experience with nature is the most highly cited influence on environmental attitude and conservation activism." Researchers added if the youngest generation loses that experience, the future of conservation is in jeopardy.

Per capita visits to U.S. national parks have been declining since 1987, after rising for the previous 50 years. The research demonstrated that video games, home movie rentals, Internet use, and rising fuel prices explain almost 98 percent of the decline.

Visits to Vermont State Parks, which offer traditional outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, swimming and picnicking, have decreased from the peak times of 1970's and early 1980's. On a positive note, park use has remained relatively stable over the last ten years, from 670,000 to around 800,000 visits per year. In the short-term weather is one of the major contributing factors, however in the long-term economic conditions, related travel patterns, electronics, and an aging population are competing for leisure time.

Craig Whipple, Director of Vermont State Parks commented, "At no time in human history have children spent less time outdoors. Attention deficit disorders, obesity and a variety of other physical and emotional ailments can be attributed to a decline in exposure to the out of doors and the natural environment."

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