As a European Commission report and an important academic paper have recently reminded us, air pollution remains a persistent threat to population health across Europe. Pollutants such as particulate matter and ozone are among the leading causes of premature mortality and respiratory-related health outcomes. Globally, exposure to air pollution ranks as one of the top ten risk factors for health. Continue reading Social differences in pollution across the EU may help to explain health inequalities
A new piece of CRESH research has been published online in the journal Public Health this week. The paper “The role of physical activity in the relationship between urban green space and health” can be downloaded here. We looked at the health of over 8000 individuals who were interviewed for the New Zealand Health Survey in 2006 and 2007 and asked whether they were likely to be healthier if they lived in greener neighbourhoods. We found that residents of greener neighbourhoods did indeed have better cardiovascular and mental health, independently of their individual risk factors (e.g., sex, age, socioeconomic status). Green space might benefit health because it provides greater opportunities for physical activity, and we were able to test this hypothesis because the New Zealand Health Survey included information about how physically active each individual respondent typically was. We found that although physical activity was higher in greener neighbourhoods it did not fully explain the green space and health relationship. Therefore, other pathways between green space and health (e.g., social contacts, attention restoration) are likely to be equally/more important.
Author: Liz Richardson
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.
One day symposium – Physical Activity and the Environment
School of Geosciences, Drummond Street, University of Edinburgh
19th November 10.00 – 16.30
Evidence exists to suggest that physical activity is important for health and that low levels of physical activity are of increasing concern. The global importance of this was highlighted in a recent collection of papers in The Lancet quantifying the public health importance of physical activity. The local environment can provide opportunities for promoting or hindering engagement in physical activity and recent research in this field has sought to understand, if and how, features of the local environment shape individual health related behaviours, and in turn, area level health inequalities.
This workshop will bring together academics, public health professionals and policy makers to discuss emerging research and interventions in this area. Speakers from both academia and public policy will present current research and interventions and a group discussion will consider the future for work in this area.
9.30 Coffee and registration
10:15 Prof Nanette Mutrie, Sport, Physical Education & Health Sciences, University of Edinburgh
10.45 Ian Findlay, Chief Officer, Paths for all
11.45 Dr Niamh Shortt, CRESH, University of Edinburgh
13.30 Sharon Allison, Physical Activity and Health Alliance Coordinator, NHS Health Scotland
14.00 Prof Andy Jones, Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), University of East Anglia
15.00 Where next for research and policy on physical activity and the environment (Group discussion facilitated by Prof Richard Mitchell and Prod Jamie Pearce)
16.30 Wine reception
Places are limited and will be allocated on a first come first served basis. Please register your interest by Friday November 2nd by contacting Fiona Hartree on 0131 651 4348 or email Fiona.Hartree@ed.ac.uk
In recent years there has been a great deal of interest amongst health researchers in the role of social stigma in affecting health. Social stigma can be articulated as a majority view that works to spoil the identity of others on the basis of a discriminating characteristic such as race, gender or class. The social stigma associated with some minority groups has been shown to have health salience in terms of providing an obstacle to gaining access health care, housing provision, welfare, employment and other underlying factors affecting health. Groups that have been the subjects of research include disabled, homeless and itinerant populations and this body of work has revealed the multitude of interpersonal and institutional factors linking discrimination with health. Stigma has also been adopted as a deliberate strategy in health promotion initiatives, most notably in tobacco control with recent work beginning to question whether the denormalisation and stigmatisation of smoking (and the smoker) has reached its limit as a public health goal.
Given the long tradition of work on stigma and health, and the importance of stigma for establishing and perpetuating health inequalities, it is perhaps surprising that few researchers have considered the potential significance of place and the environment in establishing, perpetuating and mediating social stigma. In a recent commentary* on a Japanese paper on place-based discrimination published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, I argue that geographers (and others with interests in place, space and health) could productively consider the role of spatial stigma in affecting the health of local residents. Spatial stigma arises in places with notoriety in the public discourse, and that are constructed as ‘no-go zones’ or ‘sink estates’ that require constant policing. Neighbourhoods such as Toxteth in Liverpool, South Central in Los Angeles or the French banlieues have for instance been prejudiced by deep-rooted geographical discrimination. Key to the argument in the commentary is that there are a range of consequences for population health of residing in a highly stigmatised community. Yet very few empirical studies have tested the salience of spatial stigma in affecting population health.
So why should researchers with interests in the environment and spatial inequalities in health be concerned with place-based stigma? In the Social Science and Medicine commentary, I suggest that health might be compromised by spatial stigma through a series of (non-mutually exclusive) individualised and institutional pathways, which in turn can exacerbate geographical inequalities in health. These include:
1. Being ‘looked down on’ because of residing in a stigmatised community can detrimentally affect a number of life chances such as education and training opportunities, employment prospects and the prospects of developing interpersonal relationships. These factors have all been implicated in studies of health.
2. Stigma relating to particular places may act as ‘badge of dishonour’ that results in local residents taking actions such as concealing their address, avoiding receiving visitors or providing excuses to others for where they live. These feelings of shame can work to spoil, manipulate and mediate individual identities and social relations and affect health (e.g. health behaviours or mental health).
3. Place-based stigma affects the levels investment and disinvestment of public and private resources put into the local community. Progressive social policy is undermined by the lack of investment in the local infrastructure, housing and other services that provide the opportunities for healthy living.
4. Social networks, community social bonds and collective efficacy are affected by residents’ withdrawal from the public realm in response to the perceived threats associated with spatial stigma (e.g. crime). The breakdown of these community ties is detrimental to physical and mental health outcomes of local populations.
In short, there is plenty of evidence from the urban sociology and urban geography literature that through a variety of intersecting pathways place-based stigmatisation is harmful to the life chances of local residents. The population health consequences of place-based stigma are however less well established; understanding these pathways is an important challenge for researchers with an interest in the environment and health. This challenge is particularly important during a period of austerity with major reductions in state investment in a range of health related infrastructure. A likely consequence of this retrenchment is the heightened stigmatisation of many socially disadvantaged communities with potentially disastrous implications for public health and health inequalities.
Jamie Pearce, August 2012
*Library access required; if you are unable to get hold of the paper then I’d be please to email you a copy (firstname.lastname@example.org). .
Regular exercise in a natural environment may cut the risk of suffering from poor mental health by half, according to a new study published by CRESH today.
Rich Mitchell studied the use of natural and non-natural environments for physical activity, like walking, running and cycling. He found regular use of natural environments such as forests and parks seemed to protect against mental ill-health, whilst use of non-natural environments like a gym, did not.
Previous experimental studies have shown that exercise in natural environments has a positive effect on biomarkers and self-reports of stress, on mood and reported levels of fatigue. This new study was designed to look at whether such effects can be detected in the general population in every day settings.
Data from the Scottish Health Survey 2008, described the different environments in which 1890 respondents were physically active, including woodlands, parks, swimming pools, the gym, the streets and the home. The data also showed how often respondents used each environment and how physically active they were overall. Rich looked at the association between use of each environment and the risk of poor mental health as measured by the General Health Questionnaire. Only activity in natural environments was associated with a lower risk of poor mental health.
Rich said “I wasn’t surprised by the findings that exercise in natural environments is good for your mental health, but I was surprised by just how much better it is for your mental health to exercise in a green place like a forest, than in other places like the gym.”
“Woodlands and parks seemed to have the greatest effect, so the message to doctors, planners and policy makers is that these places need protecting and promoting.
“The results suggest that making the decision to exercise in a natural environment just once a week could be enough to gain a benefit. Any additional use may have a bigger effect.”
The study, published online by Social Science & Medicine, revealed that local pavements or streets was the environment most commonly used regularly for physical activity, followed by home/garden. Around 50 per cent of the sampled group reported using any natural environment at least once in the last month.
Rich did not know the type, duration or intensity of activity conducted in each environment and noted that this was a weakness in the study, but is also an area that could be looked at in more detail in future.
You can see Rich talking about the study here: http://itunes.gla.ac.uk/web/news/video/RichardMitchell.mp4
You can read the full study here http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.04.012 (access required). If you don’t have access and want to read it, please email Rich at Richard.Mitchell@glasgow.ac.uk and ask for a copy.
The research was funded by the Scottish Government’s Rural and Environmental Science and Analytical Services division (RESAS).