For years, we’ve talked about the benefits of green spaces in urban environments. Indeed, our America in Bloom website contains several references to scientific studies, which can be used to argue for more green spaces, whether we talk about the benefits of crime reduction, improved memory retention or students’ test scores, stress reduction, increased creativity, quicker post-surgery recuperation, better neighborhood relations or the like.
Now, from Britain’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health at the University of Exeter Medical School comes the report of a new study that adds tremendously to this knowledge base. Researchers examined data from over a thousand individuals, which were able to characterize the benefits of moving to greener or less green neighborhoods within urban areas and how such moves affected mental health. The study used the General Health Questionnaire scores of individuals participating in the British Household Panel Survey. Only scores from persons that could be tracked for five consecutive years, who had relocated between 1991 and 2008, were considered. Researchers were able to conclude that individuals who moved to greener areas had significantly better and improving mental health in all three post-move years. In contrast, individuals who moved to less green neighborhoods showed significantly worse mental health in the year prior to the move, relative to their original baseline year, but these folks returned to their former baseline scores in the post-move years. However, those in this latter group never achieved the higher mental health scores of the group that moved to greener areas.
Mental health is indeed a critical public health issue. The World Health Organization has concluded that unipolar depressive disorders are now the leading cause of disability in medium to high income countries. With over three-fourths of the population in the world’s more developed regions now living in urban areas, it is easy to accept the findings of a number of studies which have concluded that decreased access to “natural” spaces is affecting people’s abilities to cope with stress. Similar conclusions have been found in a number of studies for a range of physical health outcomes, including mortality. However, this study, which documented sustained mental health improvements for those moving to greener urban areas, suggests that sustainable public health benefits can be achieved if environmental policies to increase urban green space are implemented.
At America in Bloom, our mission is to promote nationwide beautification through education and community involvement by encouraging the use of flowers, plants, trees, and other environmental and lifestyle enhancements. We envision communities across the country that are as welcoming and vibrant places to live, work, and play – benefitting from colorful plants and trees; enjoying clean environments; celebrating heritage; and planting pride through volunteerism. Captured in these sentiments is the appreciation that greener communities are safer and healthier places for all their inhabitants. Now we have increased evidence that these communities also deliver better mental health, as well. www.americainbloom.org
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