Green space during childhood may improve adult mental health

Green space during childhood may improve adult mental health
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According to Aarhus University, Denmark, it’s time to emphasise the need for designing green and healthy cities, not just for a sustainable future but for adult mental health.

Did you know that children who grow up with greener surroundings have up to 55% less risk of developing various mental disorders later in life? Adult mental health is widespread – and such research calls for greener and healthier cities for the future.

Green space + children = positive adult mental health

According to WHO estimates, more than 450 million of the global human population suffer from a mental disorder. And this is a number that is expected to increase.

Now, based on satellite data from 1985 to 2013, researchers from Aarhus University have mapped the presence of green space around the childhood homes of almost one million Danes and compared this data with the risk of developing one of 16 different mental disorders later in life.

The study, published in the American Journal PNAS, shows that children surrounded by the high amounts of green space in childhood have up to a 55% lower risk of developing a mental disorder – even after adjusting for other known risk factors such as socio-economic status, urbanisation, and the family history of mental disorders.

What actually leads to adult mental health?

Kristine Engemann from department of bioscience and the National Centre for Register-based Research at Aarhus University explains: “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.”

It is already known that noise, air pollution, infections and poor socio-economic conditions increase the risk of developing a mental disorder.

Conversely, other studies have shown that more green space in the local area creates greater social cohesion and increases people’s physical activity level and that it can improve children’s cognitive development, green space can also reduce heart disease. These are all factors that may have an impact on people’s mental health.

“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,” Kristine Engemann explains.

The relationship between greenspace and mental disorders

Kristine Engemann adds: “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.”

This knowledge has important implications for sustainable urban planning. Not least because a larger and larger proportion of the world’s population lives in cities.

Co-author Professor Jens-Christian Svenning from the Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, concludes: “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.”

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