There is now rapidly growing awareness that a thriving natural environment not only conserves biological diversity but also sustains the health and wellbeing of people and communities.
One of our most significant public health challenges is the increased prevalence of non-communicable diseases and conditions including diabetes, cardio-vascular diseases, depression and anxiety, which are placing an ever increasing social and financial burden on society. However, we know that the extent and impact of many of these diseases can be mitigated through healthy lifestyles.
Our parks and other open spaces provide critical settings that enhance our wellbeing and liveability by providing places for physical exercise, relaxation, play, learning and discovery. We know that being in nature enriches our minds and bodies, making us feel energised and alive.
Healthy ecosystems provide the shelter, food, clean air and water that sustain all living organisms – including us. Our clean air, healthy waterways and parks are some of Victoria’s most important assets that enhance the health and liveability of our communities.
There is a strong connection between the health of the natural environment and human wellbeing. There are diverse benefits for all of being in the outdoors including physical, psychological, cultural and social health and wellbeing.
This connection is one that has long been central to Aboriginal Victorians, whose cultural beliefs and practices in Caring for Country are at the core of a harmonious relationship between humans and the land, waterways and seas. This is captured in the saying ‘Care for your Country and your Country will care for you’.
The Victorian Government is committed to encouraging communities to interact more with nature, both in Victoria’s parks and other open spaces, because being in nature is good for our health and is a highly cost effective health improvement strategy. The benefits of being active in nature are recognised in the Government’s key health and environment policy platforms: the Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Plan 2015 -19 and in Protecting Victoria’s Environment: Biodiversity 2037.
In addition to promoting contact with nature for improving mental and physical health, the Department of Health and Human Services in partnership with Parks Victoria have also developed the Healthy Choices: policy guidelines for parks. Having healthy foods and drinks available in parks and promoting these as the best choices, further supports good health for visitors who spend time in the natural environment.
One of the aims of Biodiversity 2037 is to significantly increase the number of Victorians spending time in nature, for the benefit of the environment and people alike. The Plan highlights the need to create more opportunities to connect people with nature in both regional areas such as national parks, as well as in urban areas.
There are many opportunities for the health sector to build new collaborations with the environment and parks sectors to improve the health and wellbeing of our community through joint research, integrated policy and planning, and activating community-based health programs.
Through its Healthy Parks Healthy People initiative, Parks Victoria has been a global leader in demonstrating and promoting the benefits of contact with nature for our health and wellbeing. This approach has now become established in countries such as the USA, Republic of Korea, Canada and Finland.
The growth of Healthy Parks Healthy People movement demonstrates the rapidly increasing evidence that supports that being in nature plays an important role in sustaining and improving the health of all people, including the young and elderly, indigenous peoples, people with disabilities and people with socio-economic or cultural barriers.
The role of parks and nature has been under-recognised as an important contributor to the prevention and treatment of many human health conditions. This was recently recognised through Resolution #64 at the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s World Conservation Congress 2016 in Hawaii, which now demonstrates a global commitment to strengthen cross-sector partnerships that recognise the contributions of nature to health, well-being and quality of life.
In addition, our health is heavily reliant on maintaining the living standards that make Victoria such an appealing place to be. The health of our natural assets underpins two of Victoria’s most significant drivers of jobs and economic growth – agriculture and tourism – that help to sustain our liveability and prosperity, particularly in regional areas.
The Victorian Government is committed to supporting and enabling an integrated, whole of government approach that recognises the benefits of healthy parks and other natural assets for the health and wellbeing of all Victorians. This includes development of new health and nature-focussed initiatives to encourage under-represented groups such as culturally diverse communities, people with disabilities and families from lower socio-economic backgrounds the opportunity to benefit.
This will occur through closer collaboration across sectors, all levels of government, businesses and the wider community in the aim of helping Victoria to continue developing physically active and healthy generations that benefit from regular interaction with the natural world. This will ensure that we can maximise the physical and mental health benefits to all Victorians of spending time in, enjoying and actively caring for the environment.
The Hon Lily D’Ambrosio MP
Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change
The Hon Jill Hennessy MP
Minister for Health