In collaboration with the Longitudinal Studies Centre Scotland the CRESH team are part of a EU Horizon 2020 Marie Skoldowska-Curie consortium that are seeking to appoint 15 Early Stage Researchers with two of these posts based in CRESH.
In our new paper published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research we find that adults in Scotland living in environments with a greater availability of tobacco outlets are more likely to smoke, and less likely to quit. This follows on from our earlier work, in which we found that teenagers in Scotland are more likely to smoke if they live in areas with the highest number of tobacco retailers. Continue reading Neighbourhood availability of tobacco is likely to be a factor in explaining adult smoking in Scotland
Life course, environments & health
We know that factors throughout life influence our health and well-being in older age. Childhood poverty, early life education, difficult life events and many other factors have been shown to be strongly related to subsequent health outcomes. Yet almost all of this work has focused on our individual circumstances, and there have been few attempts to consider whether a wider set of factors – such as those at the community or neighbourhood level – affect our health over the life course. This is perhaps a surprise given the evidence that features of our local environment – such as air pollution, green space, and high numbers of retailers selling fast food, alcohol or cigarettes – are often associated with current health status. If these factors are causally related to health then there may be a number of policy opportunities (e.g. see our recent post on alcohol retail licensing). Continue reading Food environments around schools: what historical data might reveal about current obesity patterns
Why is urban health so unequal?
CRESH member Prof Jamie Pearce recently contributed to an event jointly organised by the Global Environment and Society Academy (GESA) and the Global Health Academy to deliver a public seminar series exploring the complex relationships between environment and health. The seminar series marks The Year of Environment and Health and will examine key issues such as urbanisation, population growth, extreme weather, pollution and ecosystem services through the lens of global environmental change. You can watch the public lecture here:
There has been a great deal of recent interest amongst social scientists and public health researchers on the multitude of social, economic and cultural factors that operate across the life course to affect our health. Life course perspectives have helped us to appreciate that socioeconomic status and health in older age are not independent of social and economic inequalities earlier in life. Two related pathways are possible. First, social and economic factors accumulate over our lives and this accrual is associated with health later in life. Second, negative socioeconomic exposures early in life influence our social trajectory, in turn affecting health; in other words the playing field in early life is uneven and this helps to establish subsequent health inequalities.
Given that life course perspectives have been so useful it is perhaps surprising that those of us with interests in ‘place’ or the ‘environment’ and health have rarely taken a life course perspective. Place-based factors early in life as well as cumulative exposure to the environment over the life course may well be important for subsequent health. Yet this assertion has rarely been tested despite the possibilities that these approaches offer for enhancing our understanding of health-environment relations. Longitudinal studies of health and the environment have almost exclusively focused on area-level social disadvantage (e.g. using historical census data) and the cumulative effects on health of living in a low income area.
Of course many aspects of the environment have been implicated in explaining health outcomes so why is it that there have been so few studies examining the health implications of a broad set of environmental characteristics over the life course? The likely answer to this question is that we have been put off by the difficultly of the task! It is rare that neighbourhood-level historical information for multiple points in time (e.g. green spaces, local infrastructure, housing quality etc.) is readily available. Even when geographical information is obtainable it is often in an inconvenient form (e.g. a paper map or buried in an archive) or incompatible with social and health information on individuals over the life courses.
Current work at CRESH is exploring the feasibility of developing a ‘life course of places’. We are examining whether we can develop a heuristic for measuring a range of ‘health-related’ neighbourhood measures across the Lothian region of Scotland at various time points over the past 80 years. We are considering the suitability of a range of available data sources including past censuses, historical maps, aerial photography and historical land use information. Of course the environmental characteristics will have a plausible link to health and may include local green space, population and housing density, street connectivity, local destinations, air pollution, availability of services, public space and transport links. We are developing the measures with a view to combining the data with cohort information relating to individuals born in the Lothian region.
If we are successful in our work, then this study promises to provide some new perspectives on understanding the role of place in explaining health outcomes in later life. Watch this space to follow our progress….
Jamie Pearce, February 2013
ESRC-Scottish Government/ Forestry Commission Scotland Studentship – NOW AVAILABLE!
Designing and managing forests for health
Applications are sought from suitably qualified candidates for a joint ESRC-Scottish Government PhD three-year (‘+3’) studentship. The project entitled ‘Designing and ManagingForests for Health’ has been developed in collaboration with the Forestry Commission Scotland and seeks to examine the links between forestry and community health across Scotland.
The successful candidate will be based in the Centre for Research on Environment, Society and Health (CRESH) in the School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh. They will also be active members of the university’s OPENspace Research Centre and the Human Geography Research Group.
Applications will be particularly welcome from candidates with a social science / environmental background (e.g. geography, landscape architecture, sociology, environmental science), and quantitative methods will be emphasised in project and training plans. Applicants must have a Masters degree or equivalent in an appropriate field. A working knowledge in GIS would be advantageous.
Start Date: Available from January 2013
Applicants should submit the following documentation through the University of Edinburgh online system:
– A recent CV
– A cover letter explaining their interest in the project.
– A completed Equal Opportunities Monitoring form (available here for download)
The deadline for submission is 17th December 2012. Interviews will take place during January 2013.
Applicants may discuss the project with any member of the supervisory team: Professor Jamie Pearce (firstname.lastname@example.org), Professor Catharine Ward Thompson (email@example.com) or Dr Niamh Shortt (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Outline of Research
The international evidence suggests that exposure to ‘green’ environments (including forests) is associated with health benefits, including lower mortality rates, blood pressure and obesity levels as well as better self-perceived health. Further, previous studies suggest that the availability of green space may reduce health inequalities. Three key mechanisms have been implicated in explaining the green space and health associations. First, green space provides opportunities for physical activity (PA), and increased PA levels are associated with reduced risks of physical and mental illnesses. Second, green space facilitates social contacts, for example through providing opportunities to meet others or participate in group activities. Third, exposure (physical and visual contact) to green space can promote recovery from attention fatigue and stress, and stress has been implicated in the aetiology of common chronic physical and mental illnesses.
Despite the volume of conceptual and empirical work on green space and health, important gaps in the knowledge base remain. In particular, it is unclear whether different types of green environments (e.g. parkland, coastal areas and woodland) have differential effects on health. This research gap has left policy makers bereft of insights into which greening interventions are likely to result in the maximum benefits for health and well-being, and address health inequalities. The focus of this study is on forestry and population-level health. The aims of the research are to: (1) evaluate the literature considering the relationships between forestry (and other forms of green spaces) and health; (2) develop a health related forest classification for Scotland to inform a spatial strategy for the health-centred management of woodlands; (3) examine links between forestry and community health across Scotland; (4) develop a ranked profile of communities with ‘good’ or ‘bad’ forestry-related health outcomes with a view to developing a needs appraisal; (5) contribute to the knowledge base supporting a spatial strategy regarding the range and level of wellbeing benefits that can be expected from forestry.
Working in close collaboration with the Forestry Commission, this project will provide new insights into the relationship between forestry and health in Scotland. It will also deliver new GIS products to compliment the ongoing work in the Commission’s GIS system (SIFT). The project also supports the Commission and the Scottish Government work priorities including the Scottish Forest Strategy (particularly Key Theme 5 ‘Access and Health’) and numerous Scottish Government priorities (e.g. four national outcomes: tackling inequalities; securing longer and healthier lives; delivering sustainable places and valuing our natural environment).
CRESH Seminar Announcement
Air Pollution Kills! So What? Air Quality Engineering to Improve Public Health
Department of Civil Engineering
University of Minnesota
When? 11-12pm Tues 6th November
Where? Hutton Room (3.18), Institute of Geography, Drummond St, Edinburgh
The World Health Organization estimates that urban air pollution is one of the top 15 causes of death globally (one of the top 10 causes in high-income countries), responsible for ~ 1.7% of deaths annual (high-income countries, 2.1%). How can we reduce those health effects? This presentation will discuss three investigations into that question. (1) Urban form describes the physical layout of an urban area – for example, city shape, population density, and “patchiness” of urban growth. We have found that air pollution is related to urban form, for cities in the US and internationally, raising the question of whether urban planning can help cities meet air quality goals. (2) In low-income countries, indoor air can be especially polluted, owing to combustion of solid fuels for heating and cooking. In a rural village in Karnataka, India, we conducted a randomized control trial of a higher-efficiency stove, to test whether the stove improves indoor air pollution, health effects, and climate-relevant emissions. (3) Prior research emphasizes the health benefits of active travel (walking, biking). Can urban planning increase active travel without worsening exposure to air pollution? We explore spatial patterns in risks from those two factors (physical inactivity; and exposure to air pollution). A constant theme through these topics is environmental justice: which groups have higher exposures to air pollution, and how exposure correlates with demographic attributes such as race and income.