INBO Research Challenges

Nature and health, from 'cure' to 'care'

INBO is increasingly focusing on the systemic interaction between biodiversity and broader social issues such as health. Different domains within society are interconnected and influence each other. For example, the health of humans and ecosystems is closely linked and mutually dependent (One Health principle). The quality of nature has a major impact on human health. On the other hand, the organisation of our society and people's behaviour have a major impact on nature. Approaching biodiversity from a health perspective is important. It can help gain wider public support for nature, anchor nature in other policy areas and clarify the importance of biodiversity to the general public.

We want to investigate the relationship between people's mental and physical health and traditional INBO themes such as biodiversity, climate change and pollution. For example, we want to investigate the relationship between measured and perceived biodiversity, and physical and mental health. We also want to examine how people perceive the health impact of local interventions such as waterlogging or greening projects and how this relates to support for ecological interventions. In addition, we want to study the impact of biodiversity loss and climate change on mental health.

In our society, many people are not only physically distant from nature but also psychologically and philosophically. They see nature as something external to humans, with humans 'ruling' over nature. This anthropocentric worldview has major implications for the way we treat nature and stands in the way of broad support for nature policy. There is a growing awareness that adjusting our worldview can improve the world. An evolution towards a more ecocentric worldview, where 'nature' and 'man' live together as equals, respecting each other, could be the key to a more sustainable nature policy.

From this perspective, it is important for people to develop or strengthen 'nature connectedness'. Nature connectedness is the awareness that we have an emotional connection with nature and the Earth, that nature is part of our identity. International research shows that high levels of nature connectedness are associated with high levels of mental well-being and environmentally friendly behaviour. Nature connectedness benefits mental well-being. It also increases respect and care for nature and biodiversity and creates greater support for nature policy.

Therefore, we want to investigate the level of nature connectedness in Flanders, how nature connectedness can be developed and how nature connectedness is related to ecological citizenship. We also want to investigate whether and how nature connectedness can help with emotions such as ecological sadness, solastalgia (what you feel as a result of changes in your environment) and ecorexia (getting so carried away with sustainable living that you come to suffer yourself).


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