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Living near to green spaces could help city dwellers live longer

Living near to green spaces can prevent premature death in city dwellers, according to a major new study.

The analysis, conducted by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) and published in The Lancet Planetary Health, included nine studies involving seven countries and a total of over eight million people. Researchers say it provides strong evidence on the impact of increasing green areas on mortality.

Many studies suggests that green spaces in cities have a positive health effect, including less stress, improved mental health, and lower risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and premature death, among others.

However, many of these studies look at only one specific point in time and use different ways to measure exposure to greenness.

The research team decided to summarise the available evidence and focus on studies that were longitudinal studies that follow the same cohort of individuals during several years. They used a simple measure of exposure to green space -the NDVI (Normalised Difference Vegetation Index) based on satellite images, and looked at premature all-cause mortality as a health outcome.

They identified nine cohort studies worldwide that included over eight million individuals in total, from seven different countries (Canada, United States, Spain, Italy, Australia, Switzerland and China).

These studies revealed that higher levels of ‘greenness’ around homes is significantly associated with reduced premature mortality. More specifically, the study provides an estimate for the protective effect: a 4% reduction in premature mortality per each increment of 0.1 in vegetation score, within 500 meters of a person’s home.

David Rojas, researcher at ISGlobal and Colorado State University and first author of the study said: ‘The results support interventions and policies to increase green spaces as a strategy to improve public health. Furthermore, this study provides important information that can already be used in future Health Impact Assessment (HIA) studies.’

Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, director of the Urban Planning, Environment and Health Initiative at ISGlobal added: ‘Urban greening programmes are not only key to promoting public health, but they also increase biodiversity and mitigate the impacts of climate change, making our cities more sustainable and livable.’

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