Team awarded new grant

Duncan Lee and Rich Mitchell have been awarded a grant from ESRC to try and solve a problem with the methods used to investigate spatial variation in health.

There is great interest in how and why the risks of good or poor health seem to vary from place to place. There are lots of studies which have tried to work out how the characteristics of places and the people who live there may explain why health is worse in some areas than in others. When scientists do this kind of work, they need to take into account the fact that places which are physically closer together tend to be similar to each other; this similarity can have an influence on the statistical tests used and if this problem is ignored, it can lead to the wrong conclusions about how the characteristics of places and the people who live there are related to risks of poor health.

There is a problem however, in that the existing techniques are not sophisticated enough to tell the difference between places that are right next to each other and which actually are very similar, and those which are right next to each other but which are actually quite different. This is a particular problem in cities, where you can get two neighbouring areas that have very different characteristics.

In this project, we intend to develop a method which is able to spot when areas are close together but have different characteristics and when areas which are close together are indeed quite similar. The method will then apply the right kind of statistical approach in each situation. Our project has three parts. First, we will develop the new method. Then we will test it in a way that allows us to see how much better our new approach is than the existing technique. Finally, we will use the method to look at how and why the risks of three different health problems vary in the central belt of Scotland. The health problems will be alcohol problems, lung problems and breast cancer. For each of these health problems we will use our new technique to explore what characteristics of places and the people who live in them, might raise or lower risk. Rather than discovering new factors that might be involved in the risks of these disease, we expect to be able to gain a better understanding of the relative importance of factors which have already been identified. This might help the health service to know what level of ill health to expect in an area, given its characteristics, and hence plan services better, or it might help to identify what aspects of places and their residents need to be changed or helped to reduce risk of poor health.

So, overall the project will make a contribution to methods in this kind of science and will also provides a useful study of some big health problems.

The project starts in October 2010 and will run for 2 years.

Smoking research in the news

Dr Jamie Pearce was part of a team of researchers considering the impact of the  introduction of legislation in New Zealand that restricted the  places where people can smoke. The results of the study, published recently, suggested  that whilst the introduction of the smoking legislation has reduced  the rate of hospital admissions due to heart attacks, this effect  may be greater in males, older age groups and those living in more  affluent neighbourhoods. The research was published in the  Australia and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. Reports on the  findings have appeared on the BBC, ITV, national newspapers as well  as various international media outlets. For example, see:

BBC coverage

The paper itself can be found here

Our green space work in the news

Green spaces keep men healthy

Jun 21, 2010

Recent work by Dr Elizabeth Richardson and Prof Richard Mitchell attracted considerable media interest recently.

Their study found that men who live in neighbourhoods with more green space are less likely to die from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases – conditions that account for almost half of all deaths in the UK. But it also found that these benefits of greener neighbourhoods do not extend to women. The results were a surprise because it had previously been widely assumed that green spaces are equally good for everyone, through offering opportunities for physical activity and social contacts for example. The reasons for the findings were unclear, but other literature tells us that women use green space less than men and don’t exercise as much there, particularly if they perceive the area to be unsafe or threatening. This could explain the findings.

The study was the first to study green space and health relationships for the UK as a whole, as the researchers combined remotely sensed data and Ordnance Survey map data to quantify green space at a national level. Mortality statistics based on a population of almost 30 million adults were used, giving the results substantial significance. It should be stressed that as the study only considered mortality statistics it cannot be assumed that women’s health does not benefit from green space in other ways.

The paper “Gender differences in relationships between urban green space and health in the United Kingdom” was funded by the Forestry Commission and originally published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, but has now received diverse coverage through outlets such as BBC Radio Scotland, the Daily Telegraph, and even The Sun, where the headline read “Park life is better for blokes’ hearts”.


Daily Mail: “Why living near a park is good for a man’s heart and lungs”

Scotsman: “Women miss out on health benefit of green spaces, major study finds”

Scottish Sun: “Park life is better for blokes’ hearts”