Green space crucial for a healthy start
Study of 10,000 Australian children demonstrates importance of greener neighbourhoods.
Some of the world’s largest studies in mental and physical wellbeing of children 0-13 years old in relation to their access to green spaces has been presented at the EcoCity World Summit in Melbourne (July 12-14).
The studies, led by Dr Xiaoqi Feng along with Associate Professor Thomas Astell-Burt, from UOW's Population Wellbeing and Environment Research Lab (PowerLab), analysed data from 10,000 participants aged 0-13 years old in the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC).
Dr Feng found measurable differences in the mental and physical wellbeing of children who grow up in greener neighbourhoods compared to those who have less access to parklands, even when taking into account if a child lives in an urban or rural area and other socioeconomic and demographic considerations.
Some of the mental health benefits increase as the children get older.
The researchers looked at mental wellbeing and respiratory status of these children in relation to measures of neighbourhood green space quantity (linked from land-use data) and the quality of those green spaces (as reported by parents).
The study found that neighbourhoods with higher quantities of green space, and green space perceived to be higher in quality, were consistently associated with more favourable child mental health.
“The benefits of green space were observed regardless of whether the parent or the child provided data for the assessment of child mental wellbeing.
"These benefits were more closely aligned with elements of mental wellbeing classified as ‘internalising’ such as in depression rather than ‘externalising’ as in the case of delinquency,” Dr Feng said.
Importantly, the presence of higher quality green space was especially beneficial for mental wellbeing as the children got older.
This resulted in widening inequality in mental wellbeing across childhood between those with and without access to quality green space.
Children living in neighbourhoods where approximately 21-40 per cent of land-use was green space were observed to have more favourable mental wellbeing than their peers living in less green neighbourhoods.
But children in areas with more than 40 per cent green space did not have significantly better mental health than those with 21-40 per cent green space, indicating the potential for a threshold effect.
Among children living in areas further from busy roads, higher quantities of green space were not associated with asthma status.
However, for children living in areas where heavy traffic was a factor, higher quantities of green space were associated with lower odds of having asthma.
According to Dr Feng, higher quantities and quality of neighbourhood green space was associated with more favourable general health regardless of the socioeconomic circumstances that the children were growing up in.
“These findings indicate that neighbourhoods with a land-use allocation of 21-40 per cent green space or higher are beneficial for a range of child health outcomes.
The quality of that green space becomes especially important as children get older,” Dr Feng said.
“Our studies in the PowerLab support efforts by city planners and advocates to even up access to green spaces, as this will be an additional way to help every child growing up in Australia to have a fairer and healthier start in life.”