Immunity and gut health boosted by outdoor play
The Sector > Research > Immunity and gut health boosted by ECEC outdoor play, Flinders study finds

Immunity and gut health boosted by ECEC outdoor play, Flinders study finds

by Freya Lucas

June 24, 2024

Being exposed to a diverse range of soil bacteria in early childhood education and care (ECEC) outdoor settings could be key to boosting both the immune systems and gut health of children, a recent study has shown. 


Researchers from Flinders University investigated the outdoor play spaces of 22 ECEC settings in the Adelaide area, finding more diverse soil bacteria in well vegetated play areas, highlighting the need for planning more biodiversity in urban environments, lead author Associate Professor Martin Breed shared.


Interestingly, the study also found that the diversity of beneficial microbes was lower in sandpits than in soils – including garden beds, ‘mud-play’ areas and under lawns.


For first author Natalie Newman the results show that the diversity and composition of bacterial communities in sandpits and soils is influenced by surrounding vegetation and depends on the substrate type.


“There is great potential to manage these factors to improve children’s exposure to health-associated bacterial communities at a critical time in their immune system development,” Environmental Scientist Ms Newman said.


The findings are significant, given projections which note that by 2050, around 70 per cent of the global population will live in urban areas. As populations become increasingly urbanised, exposure to the natural world decreases, with scientists already seeing negative impacts from a reduced “dose of nature” including weaker immune systems which have been associated with increasing rates of asthma and even anxiety.


Coauthor Dr Jake Robinson says there is mounting evidence to support connections between human health and exposure to environmental typologies such as green and blue, aquatic spaces.


“However, the mechanistic links that connect human health with biodiversity are less clear,” he said.


“We are seeking more evidence and possible frameworks to map the links between biodiversity and our health.”


Childcare centre soil microbiomes are influenced by substrate type and surrounding vegetation condition may be accessed using the links provided. 

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