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Danish research finds benefits of access to green space

04 March 2019

Children who grow up surrounded by green space are less likely to develop a mental health condition in adulthood, according to a new study. Danish Researchers found children who grew up with greener surroundings were up to 55 percent less likely to develop a mental disorder later in life. The number of people live in cities is increasing and the World Health Organisation estimates more than 450 million people suffer with a mental disorder. And so the new study from Aarhus University in Denmark calls on city planners to design greener and healthier cities in the future to improve mental health.

Based on satellite data from 1985 to 2013, the researchers mapped the presence of green space around the childhood homes of almost one million Danes.

They compared the data, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, with the risk of developing one of 16 different mental disorders later in life. Children surrounded by high amounts of green space in childhood were up to 55 per cent less likely to develop a mental disorder – even when taking into account known risk factors such as socioeconomic status, urbanisation and a family history of mental health problems. Noise, air pollution, infections and poor socioeconomic conditions increase the risk of developing a mental disorder, according to the study. But researchers found more green space in the local area creates greater social cohesion and increases people’s physical activity levels. This can improve children’s cognitive development and impact upon their mental health.

Lead author Dr Kristine Engemann, from the Department of Bioscience and the National Centre for Register-based Research at the university, said: ‘Our data is unique. ‘We have had the opportunity to use a massive amount of data from Danish registers of, among other things, residential location and disease diagnoses and compare it with satellite images revealing the extent of green space surrounding each individual when growing up. ‘With our dataset, we show that the risk of developing a mental disorder decreases incrementally the longer you have been surrounded by green space from birth and up to the age of 10. ‘Green space throughout childhood is therefore extremely important. ‘There is increasing evidence that the natural environment plays a larger role for mental health than previously thought. Our study is important in giving us a better understanding of its importance across the broader population.’

Co-author Professor Jens-Christian Svenning from the Department of Bioscience at the university said: ‘The coupling between mental health and access to green space in your local area is something that should be considered even more in urban planning to ensure greener and healthier cities and improve mental health of urban residents in the future.’

The study is published in the journal PNAS.