Originally published: The Guardian
People living close to trees and green spaces are less likely to be obese, inactive, or dependent on anti-depressants, according to a new report.
Middle-aged Scottish men with homes in deprived but verdant areas were found to have a death rate 16% lower than their more urban counterparts. Pregnant women also received a health boost from a greener environment, recording lower blood pressures and giving birth to larger babies, research in Bradford found.
Overall, nature is an under-recognised healer, the paper says, offering multiple health benefits from allergy reductions to increases in self-esteem and mental wellbeing.
A study team of 11 researchers at the Institute for European environmental policy (IEEP) spent a year reviewing more than 200 academic studies for the report, which is the most wide-ranging probe yet into the dynamics of health, nature and wellbeing.
The project first appeared as an unpublicised 280-page European commission literature review last autumn, before being augmented for Friends of the Earth Europe with analysis of the links between nature-related health outcomes and deprivation.
“The evidence is strong and growing that people and communities can only thrive when they have access to nature,” said Robbie Blake, a nature campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, which commissioned the analysis.
“We all need nature in our lives, it gives us freedom and helps us live healthily; yet deprived communities are routinely cut off from nature in their surroundings and it is suffocating for their well-being.”
The report makes use of several studies that depict access to nature as being inextricably linked to wealth inequality, because deprived communities typically have fewer natural environments within easy reach.
The study cites research that 26% of England’s black and minority ethnic populations visit natural environments less than three times a year, compared with 15% of the rest of the population.
Patrick ten Brink, the IEEP’s director, praised cities such as Oslo and Victoria-Gasteiz for taking steps to make nature accessible to all.
“We should be inspired by this and work together so that all Europeans have nature within 300 metres of their homes in the next 10 years,” he said.
Previous US research has found that that hospital patients with tree views from their windows were discharged a day earlier than those whose rooms faced walls.
An extra 10 trees on a Toronto city block provided health benefits to residents equivalent to a $10,000 increase in annual income, or being seven years younger, another study in 2015 found.