In our recently published paper (open access version here) we describe the development of a multivariate measure of physical environmental deprivation for the 278 municipalities of Portugal, and demonstrate its strong relationship with mortality rates. Continue reading Is multiple environmental deprivation related to population health in Portugal?
by Esther Rind
In the UK, as in many other affluent countries, levels of physical activity have been declining in recent decades. In many areas with a history of heavy manual employment levels of physical activity are particularly low. This has been linked to a considerable reduction in work-related activities, coupled with a generally more sedentary life-style and the development of broader environmental factors unconducive to physical activity (e.g. increased traffic makes walking and cycling less safe and attractive). Furthermore, previous research has highlighted that participation in leisure-time physical activity is relatively low across those employed in physically demanding industries. Low levels of recreational physical activity in combination with a considerable loss of work activity would therefore result in particularly low activity levels in the former manual workforce. Continue reading Does deindustrialisation explain low levels of physical activity in the UK?
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
by Helena Tunstall, Catherine Tisch and Anna Kenyon
The 15th International Medical Geography Symposium, the biggest international academic health geography conference, took place July 7-12 this year, at Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing, USA. This conference is always a fun, friendly and inspirational meeting: a real CRESH highlight. This time we were represented by Helena Tunstall (presenting on ‘triple jeopardy’ in England and impacts of internal migration on health inequalities in UK), Anna Kenyon (presenting on walkability measures and walking outcomes in Scotland) and Catherine Tisch (presenting on tobacco environments and adolescent smoking behaviours in Scotland). Abstracts for these talks can be found in the program, but watch this space for news of forthcoming publications on these topics. In this short blog post we note some thoughts arising from the conference. Continue reading CRESH goes Stateside: International Medical Geography Symposium 2013
In CRESH’s latest publication, in the European Journal of Public Health, we look at health inequalities across Europe from a geographical perspective: tracking how life expectancy changed between 1991 and 2008 within 129 regions of 13 countries (combined population 272 million in 2008). Across this period life expectancies improved in every region (see maps below). But we find no evidence that geographical inequalities narrowed during this time, despite efforts to reduce the gap. In Eastern European regions the life expectancy gap for males actually widened. We then investigate whether the inequalities could be “explained” by socioeconomic disparities between the regions – measured as regional-average household income (in comparable units). We find that household income differences could partly explain the life expectancy gaps, although not for female Eastern Europeans. Continue reading Life expectancy changes in European regions over two decades: have the gaps narrowed or widened?
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
“Greenwash” is sometimes used to describe exaggerated or otherwise misleading claims made about a product or company’s environmental benefits. People are understandably becoming more and more cynical about environmental friendliness claims – but the danger is that genuine environmental benefits are rejected along with the greenwash, which “threatens the whole business rationale for becoming more environmentally friendly” (Futerra 2008).
I am concerned that the green space and health research agenda is at risk of being overtaken by a form of greenwash, as ironic as that may sound. Green spaces – also known as natural/vegetated/open spaces – clearly have some social, environmental and economic benefits. The research of CRESH and many other groups has demonstrated this. But these benefits are not experienced everywhere, or by everyone. The same wooded park may be a valued jogging or walking area for some people, but a terrifying no-go area for others. There is much important research to be done to understand and address the barriers that prevent different groups benefitting from green spaces. CRESH researchers are among many jointly trying to bridge this knowledge gap.
The greenwash that concerns me is the mantra that ‘green space is good’ – end of story. At a recent GreenHealth Conference (11th March 2013, Edinburgh) the fascinating results from a four-year Scottish Government funded research programme were presented. CRESH’s own Rich Mitchell presented on the topic “More green = better health?” and concluded that this is not always the case (see blog post). Nonetheless, in one of the afternoon discussions one attendee called for less research and more action “because we know green space is good already”. Additionally, some important Greenspace Scotland work – showing that investment in ten community green space projects across Scotland provides good social, environmental and economic value for money – has been misleadingly reported elsewhere as “Greenspace is good… fact!” This is greenwash. It is also an example of a factoid – an assumption or speculation that is reported and repeated until it is considered true (see Cummins and Macintyre’s 2002 paper on how “food deserts” made it into UK policy by such a pathway). Policy-making based on assumptions is dangerous: Cummins and Macintyre urge policy makers to look at the facts more critically.
Jane Jacobs – the influential American writer on urban planning – wrote about the greenwash surrounding green spaces (or ‘grass fetishes’ as she called it) more than 50 years ago. In The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961, Random House, NY) she wrote that “In orthodox city planning, neighbourhood open spaces are venerated in an amazingly uncritical fashion…” (p.90). She qualifies that, while ”parks can and do add great attraction to neighbourhoods that people find attractive for a great variety of other uses”, they may also “exaggerate the dullness, the danger, the emptiness” (p.111). If the barriers to green space use are not identified and addressed local people cannot be expected to use and benefit from them, regardless of the intentions of well-meaning city planners. Informing people that ‘green space is good’ won’t help. The danger is that when their touted benefits don’t materialise, green spaces may fall out of favour, when in truth, and with greater attention to what the evidence tells us, they may have been a great public health resource. Instead of less research we urgently need to strengthen the evidence base and publicise our findings more widely. Watch this space.
Author: Liz Richardson