Announcing Our Refined Mission

The Center for Jackson Hole is excited to announce a major refinement to our mission.

Moving forward, we will focus exclusively on the advancement and promotion of nature as a social determinant of health.

Our vision? By 2025, to get 10% of Americans to take their doctor’s recommendations for physical activity outside.

Here’s why.

90% of the US’s $3.3 trillion in annual health care expenditures are from chronic diseases and mental health. Six in ten Americans have a chronic disease. Four in ten have two or more.

The future of medicine in the US will focus on changing patient behavior, which contributes up to 40% of health and wellness. Social determinants of health — conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play—are drivers of a wide range of health risks and outcomes as well as levers for cost savings. Nature is one of those drivers, but its importance has yet to be fully realized.

Just look at what it can do. One in five adults are obese, adding $147 billion in annual health care costs. Diabetes affects 24 million people, and costs $245 billion to our health care system. Heart disease and stroke: 810,000 deaths annually, $190 billion in costs. Mental illness accounts for $89 billion in healthcare spending and $193 billion in lost earnings each year. Outdoor recreation addresses all of these.

The amount of time children are engaged in sedentary activities is positively correlated with their ever-growing health problems. Exposure to nature has been proven to help address this, and to improve their immune systems too.

The health care cost implications for outdoor recreation are greatly underutilized as well. To cite just one example, in 2018, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department calculated that Oregonians’ participation in outdoor recreation activities yielded $1.4B/year in health care cost savings in the state. Imagine the power to argue for recess if every state did the math. 

Improving the health outcomes of Americans is one of the most pressing socio-economic issues of our time. Nature represents a low-cost, low-risk solution that’s open 24/7, 365 days a year. Time outside is a clarion call in a world of too many screens, too much noise, and too little connection to that which conditioned our evolution in the first place. And by championing the importance of nature to health outcomes, we’re positioning ourselves to make implicit demands for its protection.

But if it were just about centering nature, and specifically physical activity in nature, as a social determinant of health, and using it to change our behavior, both as patients and as citizens of a more enlightened world, it probably would have already happened by now.

As an American, your zip code is a greater indicator of health outcomes than your genetic code. Health disparities and inequities are often correlated with factors such as limited access to and low quality of available public spaces, as well as lesser degrees of representation and participation in the process of shaping and maintaining them. Planning for outdoor recreation must especially address under-resourced communities, where the health risks are greatest and the resources least available.

Our objective with this refined mission is to help advance the economic and practical applications of nature as a social determinant of health. This work must take into consideration issues related to equity and inclusion if it is to be relevant. Just as we must invest in under-resourced communities to insure access to outdoor recreation is equitable, so must we invest in our organizations, our communities and in ourselves in order to recalibrate our approach to planetary and human well-being.

We began this journey with SHIFT in 2013. It has taken our organization nearly seven years to get to this point. We believe that advancing nature as a social determinant represents the strongest argument we can make for nature itself, at a point when that argument needs to be made loudly and clearly. And we believe that with your help, we have an opportunity to create more than a movement. We can create a groundswell, a collaborative coalition of outdoor recreationists, conservationists, land managers and public health providers, all unified in their pursuit of better health in a healthy world.

We invite you to join us.

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