A report from the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) last year showed that Americans are spending significantly less time outside than we used to. According to the 2019 Outdoor Participation Report, which provides a snapshot of how the nation recreates, people in this country did one billion fewer things outside in 2018 than they did in 2008. About 50 percent of respondents said they engaged in outdoor activity at least once a year, while only 17.9 percent reported that they recreated outdoors every week.
And the industry listened.
The statistics were addressed during the first day of the 2020 Outdoor Retailer Outdoor + Snow Show, during the "Is America Becoming an Indoor Nation? The Need for a Movement to Get Americans Outside" panel. In her opening remarks, Lise Aangeenbrug, executive director of the Outdoor Foundation, OIA’s charitable arm, said: “When you first see this number, it seems really impressive — 50 percent of Americans report that they get outside. But when you really look at this and think about it, it’s 50 percent of Americans say they get outside at least one time per year, and what that means is that 50 percent say they don’t go outside once per year.”
Panelists included Jeff Bellows, vice president of corporate citizenship and public affairs at Blue Cross Blue Shield; Shanelle Smith Whigham, the Ohio state director for the Trust for Public Land; and Ben Steele, the executive vice president of REI. Freelance science writer Aaron Reuben served as moderator.
The panelists spoke about how they see more people staying indoors as having negative effects on mental and physical health. Bellows said that he witnesses firsthand how an indoor, sedentary lifestyle contributes to health issues and increases health-care costs around the country. Both Whigham and Steele spoke about the improvements in quality of life that can be gained by spending more time outside.
But the conversation quickly turned to inclusivity and ensuring that people aren’t made to feel that they need to approach the outdoors in a specific way. This point was especially poignant coming from Steele, whose client base at REI often has a specific idea of what getting into the outdoors looks like, involving far-flung peaks and epic journeys into the wilderness. The reality as laid out by the Outdoor Participation Report, though, is that 63.3 percent of people recreate outside at locations that are within ten miles of their home.
“The relationship that people have with the outdoors is directly related to their willingness to protect it, their investment in making choices that will protect it,” says Steele. “I think the outcome [of getting more people outside] is that we stop having to think about the costs of climate change and we start agreeing about how we can actually do something to protect the future of the outdoors.”
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