Loneliness, a pervasive issue affecting millions worldwide, has significant implications for mental and physical health. Addressing this, the RECETAS project emerges as a groundbreaking initiative. Funded by the Horizon 2020 European Commission, this project employs nature-based social prescribing (NBSP) to tackle loneliness and enhance health-related quality of life. Spanning six cities across Europe, Australia, and South America, RECETAS targets various vulnerable groups, demonstrating a commitment to diversity and inclusivity. The findings were published in the journal Cities & Health.
The theoretical foundations of RECETAS lie in frameworks like self-determination and social cognitive theory, emphasising the role of nature in fostering well-being. The project’s activities range from stakeholder engagement and co-creation processes to the development and testing of NBSP interventions. Through these interventions, individuals engage in nature-based activities and social interactions, fostering a sense of community and belonging.
Randomised controlled trials and cost-effectiveness studies underpin RECETAS’s evidence-based approach, ensuring its interventions are not only effective but also economically viable. This multifaceted approach promises to yield insights into the relationship between nature, social connections, and loneliness reduction.
One of the most intriguing aspects of RECETAS is its potential scalability and adaptability. The project’s outcomes could inform urban policy planning and healthcare strategies, offering a template for other cities and regions grappling with similar issues. The intersection of nature-based solutions with health care, facilitated by the project, could revolutionise how we approach mental health and community well-being.
Dr Jill S. Litt, professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, elaborates on the project’s motivations and its innovative approach: “We were interested in building off past research demonstrating that nature-based solutions that are socially supported, such as community or allotment gardens, can move the needle on stress and anxiety as well as strengthening social connections.
“However, community gardening is not for everyone. So, we set out to see how we could leverage the therapeutic benefits of nature and social structures for a wider population and apply them to an emerging public health concern: loneliness. Our idea was to take an existing concept, social prescribing, and use it to bridge health systems that have the potential to intervene on loneliness with nature-based solutions, such as parks, gardens, river walks, coastal zones, and other blue areas that should be part of our public health infrastructure but not being utilised for health and wellbeing purposes.”
Professor Litt also discusses the ongoing progress and challenges of the study: “Currently, we are in the middle of data collection so findings will be available in 2025. Our current study is testing a holistic model of social prescribing that is group-based, led by trained facilitators, and applied outdoors in natural spaces (different from the current model mostly used in the UK).
“Three of our trials (Barcelona, Helsinki, and Prague) are deploying randomised controlled trials, which will strengthen the evidence base for nature-based social prescribing. The upside is that we will be generating robust and rigorous scientific results with economic evaluations to better understand cost-effectiveness. The downside is that these studies are resource-intensive and thus require long periods of time to collect and analyse the data.”
Speaking about the project’s future implications, Professor Litt shares her vision: “If successful, we hope to work with municipalities to adopt these programmes so that loneliness becomes the next vital sign of health and well-being, that is, a core indicator of health and one that health providers screen for and begin to manage early and more effectively.”
The RECETAS project stands as a beacon of innovation in public health, illustrating how environmental and social interventions can work synergistically to combat loneliness. Its success could pave the way for a future where nature-based social interventions become a staple in health and community systems, enhancing the quality of life for people across the globe.
The RECETAS project, through its unique approach to combating loneliness, holds the promise of not just improving individual lives but also strengthening community ties and promoting urban health. By leveraging the therapeutic potential of nature and fostering social connections, it offers a holistic, cost-effective solution to a challenge that is becoming increasingly urgent in our modern world.