(NaturalNews) With rapid industrialization and urbanization, fewer and fewer of us live in areas of serene greenery. Yet, there has always been something very relaxing and attractive about parks and forests. And three recent studies have found that living near such areas has beneficial effects on our health and the health of our children.
More greenery narrows health gap between rich and poor
Firstly, a study jointly carried out by the University of Glasgow and University of St Andrews found that living near parks and forests provides an overall health boost, an impact which is independent of social class.
Using mortality data of 366,348 people in England from 2001 to 2005 and looking at the link between exposure to greenery and different causes of death, researchers found that the health gap between the richest and poorest groups of people was the smallest in areas with the most green spaces – it was only about half of the gap of the areas with the least greenery. Significantly, it was also found that even small green spaces in living environments made a difference to people's risk of fatal diseases.
The use of fields and parks for walks and other physical activities helps to regulate blood pressure as well as alleviate the harmful effects of stress, said Dr Richard Mitchell, the researcher from the University of Glasgow. "Not everyone has equal access to green spaces, but when people do have access they tend to use them, regardless of what part of the social spectrum they are from. This has a direct impact on their health," he said.
"Obviously, resources must still be ploughed into trying to narrow the inequality gap between rich and poor, and with that will come advances in the population's general health. However, we would encourage the Government to consider carefully what their policy on green spaces is and to bear this research in mind when planning urban areas for the future," Dr Mitchell also said.
The study team's report, which was published in The Lancet, stated that "the implications of this study are clear – environments that promote good health might be crucial in the fight to reduce health inequalities".
Another study which was conducted at the Columbia University and published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that, for every additional 343 trees in every square kilometer, asthma rates among children in New York aged 4 and 5 decreased by 25%.
And, according to the study team, this association remained even after factors such as pollution sources, levels of affluence and population density were accounted for. While the researchers were not sure why the link existed, they felt it could be due to the fact that the presence of more trees improves air quality, as well as encourages children to play outdoors.
More greenery lessens obesity among children
Besides "clean and green", we can perhaps add "slim and green" to the equation too. This is because, according to a study carried out at the Indiana University School of Medicine, children who live in areas with more greenery actually have a lower likelihood of being obese.
The study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine and it looked at children aged 3 to 18 who had lived in the same residence for at least 2 straight years. It found that the more green a neighborhood, the slower the increase in body mass index (BMI) over time, an effect which was independent of factors such as age, race and gender.
According to the research team, slowing the increase of BMI could then lower the likelihood of child obesity in the long run. An obese child is more likely to become an obese adult, and obesity, of course, is linked to a whole host of dangerous health conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea and asthma.
Again, the impact of greenery is speculated to be its effect of encouraging children to get outdoors and walk, run, play, etc. After all, a greener environment is less polluted, cooler during the hot months, and also has a more attractive appearance.
"Previous work, including our own, has provided snapshots in time, and shown that for children in densely population cities, the greener the neighborhood, the lower the risk of obesity. Our new study of over 3,800 inner-city children revealed that living in areas with green space has a long-term positive impact on children's weight and thus health," said Gilbert C Liu, an assistant professor of pediatrics and leader of the study.
"Obesity is a national epidemic necessitating the involvement of health-care providers, parents, and the community. Our lifestyle makes us sedentary and less healthy. For children, physical activity is active play, and that usually takes place outdoors. We need to encourage them to go outside and play. I love the idea that we can landscape for health," he added.
Want good health? If governments and city councils do not bring them to us, perhaps we should actively seek out parks, woodland or other open spaces.