The world's largest review to date has recently established just how important urban green space is for staving off premature death.
Some 63% of people in the United States live in cities. Some cities are greener than others — Philadelphia, for example, has a long history of urban greening and is even looking to bump up
its 20% of green space — and northern cities tend to have less green space than southern ones.
Now, the World Health Organization (WHO) is looking to highlight the importance of green space in well-being and public health. Urban green spaces such as parks, sports fields, woods, lakesides, and gardens give people the space for physical activity, relaxation, peace, and an escape from the heat. Multiple studies have shown that these spaces reduce stress and boost mental and physical health. Green spaces are also associated with better air quality, reduced traffic noise, cooler temperatures, and greater diversity.
Furthermore, recent estimates put around 3.3%Trusted Source of global deaths down to a lack of physical activity, mostly as a result of poor walkability and limited access to recreational areas. However, many of these studies have only looked at a particular point in time and have varied in how they measured people’s use of green space.
Now, the most comprehensive review to date has analyzed nine longitudinal studies spanning seven countries, 8 million people, and several years of follow-up.
Appearing in The Lancet Planetary Health, the meta-analysis found strong evidence to show that green urban spaces can help people live longer.
The Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) in Spain conducted this review in collaboration with Colorado State University in Fort Collins.
The study shows that green space in cities reduces premature mortality, explained Dr. Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, director of Urban Planning, Environment, and Health Initiative at ISGlobal.
Cities often don’t have much green space," he added. Green space is also good for climate mitigation through reducing heat island effects in cities and reducing air pollution effects. The research team, using the available evidence from studies that had looked at the same group of individuals over a number of years, analyzed the availability of green space (from satellite images) and premature death due to all causes. The studies they reviewed covered more than 8 million people across the U.S., Canada, China,
Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and Australia.
The researchers found that for every 0.1 increments in vegetative score within 500 meters of a person’s home, there was a 4% reduction in premature mortality. These results show just how
important green space is when strategizing public health.
This study isn’t very exact, as it doesn’t differentiate between a tree on the sidewalk and a hiking trail through the woods, which are of course very different things.
Hopefully, future studies will examine these differences in greater depth.
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