Study finds population health linked to amount of local green space

The findings from a two-year investigation into how different types of green space can affect health have been released by the University of Exeter Medical School.

Green space. Image: MorgueFile
Green space. Image: MorgueFile

The research was carried out by the university's European Centre for Environment and Human Health, based in Cornwall. Published in two journals, the research paints a complex picture of how 'greenspace' can impact upon health.

The study looked for correlations between the amount of green space in an area and the local population's health, as self-assessed in the 2011 Census.

The researchers explained: "Different environmental indicators did indeed seem to be differently associated with population health. For example, we found that associations between good health and land cover type were particularly apparent for broadleaf woodland, coastal areas and improved grassland (which is the classification of much of our managed urban park space).

"The results also suggested that rates of good population heath were higher in areas with a greater diversity of land cover types, with greater bird species richness and in areas with higher density of protected/designated areas."

However population health was worse in areas with better freshwater quality - which the researchers found difficult to explain.

Researchers also found that there was a stronger correlation between green space and health in the poorest areas of England, suggesting that more wealthy populations were less affected by a lack of green space than poorer populations.  Researchers suggested high-quality natural environments could thus potentially make up for deprivation and promote health equality.

The study's conclusions support the general argument that natural environments support and promote good health and wellbeing – but also that different types and qualities of environment matter.

However, the findings also highlight the need for more research to investigate these links thoroughly, ensuring that we understand which natural environments are beneficial, for whom, and in what context, the researchers said.

Dr Ben Wheeler, lead researcher on the Beyond Greenspace project, said: "There is a growing volume of scientific evidence showing that 'greenspace' is a potentially important resource for our health and wellbeing. Yet our findings show that this relationship is complex and, currently, poorly understood.

"The more evidence we can produce that properly reflects the nuances and subtleties of these interconnections, the better chance we have of implementing policies and programmes that will capitalise on opportunities to protect and improve public health and wellbeing as well as our precious natural environments."

Full details of the research can be found on the Beyond Greenspace blog.

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