The outdoor environment as a means of tackling poor health and health inequalities

The UK and other developed nations continue to face problems with rising rates of chronic diseases and apparently declining mental health. Allied to these are steady increases in health inequalities between population sub groups, particularly between those characterised by greater and less socio-economic disadvantage. Existing literature, drawn primarily from the UK, Netherlands and Sweden has suggested that either visual or physical access to green spaces may carry health benefits. There is evidence that populations to have access to green spaces have lower levels of morbidity and mortality from certain causes. A  study by Rich Mitchell and Frank Popham in 2008  also suggested that the health gap between more and less advantaged populations may be narrowed in areas which have a higher proportion of green space. Understandably, this kind of research finding has raised considerable levels of interest among a variety of groups. Politicians, health professionals, land managers and those with an interest in or passion for the natural world have all begun to talk about green spaces as potentially useful in the hunt for better public health, narrower health inequalities and preserved and enhanced green spaces.

The Forestry Commission funded a 12month project with us,  focused on developing research into the relationships between green space and population health. The project ran from July 2008 to end of August 2009. The aims and objectives were

  1. A expansion of existing studies to include the entire UK and to
    1. Examine impact of data sets used to measure green space
    2. Focus on variation in association by causes of death
    3. Examine variations in association by economic / demographic group
  2. An exploration the relationship between green space and mental health in the UK
  3. An attempt to control for the influence of residential selection in the relationship between green space and health by using longitudinal data
  4. Developing international comparisons with Europe and the USA

You can download a version of the final report: FC Final Report_webversion

The project has produced this paper so far

Richardson EA, Mitchell R. Gender differences in green space and health relationships in the United Kingdom. Soc Sci Med 2010;71:568-575

and has other papers under review.

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