Morbidity is related to a green living environment

People living close to green space have lower rates of anxiety/depression and poor physical health than those living in concrete jungles, finds research by NIVEL, EMGO+ and Alterra published ahead of print in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The researchers base their findings on the health records of people registered with 195 family doctors in 95 practices across the Netherlands. Between them, the practices serve a population of almost 350,000. The percentages of green space within a 1 and 3 kilometre radius of their home were calculated using the household’s postcode. On average, green space accounted for 42% of the residential area within a 1 kilometre radius and almost 61% within a 3 kilometre radius of people’s homes. Green space within a kilometre radius of an individual’s home had the most impact on rates of ill health.

The annual rates of 15 of 24 different disease clusters, categorised as cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, mental ill health, respiratory disease, neurological disease, digestive disease, and miscellaneous complaints were significantly lower among those living close to more extensive areas of green space. The impact was especially noticeable on rates of mental ill health.

The annual prevalence of anxiety disorders among those living in a residential area containing 10% of green space within a 1 km radius of their home was 26 per 1000, and for those living in an area containing 90% of green space it was 18 per 1000. Similarly, the figures for depression were, respectively, 32 and 24 per 1000 of the population.

The association was strongest for those who spent a lot of time in the vicinity - children and those with low levels of education and income - as well as those between the ages of 45 and 65. Exactly how the provision of green space affects health is not clear, but it may indicate better air quality as well as offering opportunities for relaxation, de-stressing, socialising and exercise, suggest the authors.

“This study shows that the role of green space in the living environment for health should not be underestimated,” they conclude, adding that many of the diseases/disorders on which green space seems to exert a positive influence are common and costly to treat.

Dr Jolanda Maas, tel. 030 272 9700