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Outdoor activity participation improves adolescents’ mental health and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic

Cite this dataset

Jackson, Steven et al. (2020). Outdoor activity participation improves adolescents’ mental health and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic [Dataset]. Dryad.


The COVID-19 pandemic is reshaping human interactions with the natural environment, generating profound consequences for health and well-being. To assess the effects of COVID-19 on the outdoor recreation participation and well-being of adolescents we conducted a nationally representative survey of youth ages 10-18 across the United States (n = 624) using a Qualtrics XM panel between April 30 and June 15, 2020. Survey questions focused on frequency of participation in several types of outdoor activities before and during the pandemic. Activity categories included outdoor play activities (e.g., running, biking), nature-based activities (e.g., camping, fishing), and spending outdoor time with family. We assessed changes in the psychological health of youth using a four-item subjective well-being scale validated by the World Health Organization. Paired t-tests revealed significant decreases in both outdoor recreation participation (64% of youth reported declines) and subjective well-being (52% reported declines) during the pandemic. A regression model examining correlates of changes in subjective well-being (R2=0.42) revealed strong associations between subjective well-being and changes in outdoor play activities (B=0.44, p<0.001) and changes in nature-based activities (B=0.21, p=0.016). Youth who continued to participate in these activities during COVID-19 reported significantly smaller drops in subjective well-being, whereas youth whose outdoor participation waned were more negatively impacted by the pandemic. Furthermore, youth who reported high levels of outdoor play activity participation before the pandemic were also less likely to experience post-COVID-19 declines in subjective well-being. These results contribute to our understanding of adolescent psychological reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as highlighting the critical role that time outdoors and time in nature can play in bolstering youth resilience to environmental stressors.


Data Collection:

The sample for this study was prepared using an online panel provided by Qualtrics XM through a stratified convenience sampling approach. The Qualtrics panel provided for this study drew from a national pool (50 states, Puerto Rico) with demographic quotas for gender (male, female, non-binary and other), race (White, Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, Native American, other), and community type (rural area, small city or town, suburb near a large city, and large city) representative of the 2019 U.S. census data. Sampling was restricted to parents and their children between the ages of 10-18 years old.

Data collection began April 30, 2020 and closed June 15, 2020. Data were collected through separate but linked parent and child survey instruments that were created and administered using the Qualtrics platform. Surveys were administered to qualifying parents who completed the parent version of the survey before being prompted to hand their device to their qualifying child to complete the adolescent version of the survey. Prior to starting the survey, parents were provided with a linked and downloadable consent form acknowledging their consent to participate and their consent for their child to participate. Adolescents were also provided with an age appropriate assent form acknowledging their consent to participate.

Data Processing:

Data were downloaded into Microsoft Excel from the Qualtrics XM dashboard. We used listwise deletion to remove 257 responses that were either straight-line responses (answering the same for all questions) or nonsensical text responses (related to open text questions), resulting in a final sample of 624. When a survey response was removed from the sample, the corresponding parent or child survey was also removed. Parent and child surveys were linked using Qualtrics embedded dyad codes.

Usage notes

The Readme file Jackson_COVIDSWB2020_Readme.txt contains information about the dataset. The accompanying data key (COVIDSWBKey2020.csv) includes the questions that correspond to each variable as well as the response scales for each question. The accompanying Stata do-file ( contains the Stata code for statistical analysis.

The response scale for the general outdoor activity items (cActivitypre, cActivitypost) were recoded so that “less than one time per month” = 0.25, “1-2 times per month” = 0.5, “1 time per week” = 1, “2-4 times per week” = 3, and “5 or more times per week” = 5. We recoded these values to approximate the actual number of outdoor activities adolescents participated in during the week.

The response scale for the item “Has spending time outdoors in nature helped you deal with the stress caused by practicing social distancing because of the coronavirus outbreak?” (cStress), was also recoded so that the responses “Not at all” and “Does not apply” were grouped together as “No”, while the responses “Somewhat” and “Definitely” were grouped together as “yes”. This helped to streamline the analysis and clarify directionality of the relationship between outdoor activity participation and SWB.

Children identifying as more than one race were grouped into a single “two or more races” category.

State of residence data was broken into 4 geographic regions delineated by the U.S. Census Bureau, with Alaska and Hawaii being added to the West region and Puerto Rico being added to the South region (South: AL, AR, DC, DE, FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, MS, NC, OK, PR, SC, TN, TX, VA, WV) (Northeast: CT, ME, MA, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT) (Midwest: IL, IN, IA, KS, MI, MN, MO, NE, ND, OH, SD, WI) (West: AK, AZ, CA, CO, HI, ID, MT, NV, NM, OR, UT, WA, WY). The cleaned dataset was analyzed with Stata 14.1.

The variables age, grade, and state have been removed from the supplied version of the dataset to comply with Dryad human subjects guidelines.