POST - Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

Green Space and Health

Published Monday, October 17, 2016

A range of bodies, including Government agencies, have promoted the possible physical and mental health benefits of access to green space. This POSTnote summarises the evidence for physical and mental health benefits from contact with nature, such as reducing rates of non-communicable diseases, and the challenges for urban green spaces.

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The 'green spaces' that are the subject of this note are natural or semi-natural areas partially or completely covered by vegetation that occur in or near urban areas. They include parks, woodlands and allotments, which provide habitat for wildlife and can be used for recreation. Only half of people in England live within 300 metres of green space and the amount of green space available is expected to decrease as urban infrastructure expands.

Key points in this POSTnote include:

  • Physical and mental illnesses associated with sedentary urban lifestyles are an increasing economic and social cost.
  • Areas with more accessible green space are associated with better mental and physical health.
  • The risk of mortality caused by cardiovascular disease is lower in residential areas that have higher levels of ‘greenness’.
  • There is evidence that exposure to nature could be used as part of the treatment for some conditions.
  • There are challenges to providing green spaces, such as how to make parks easily accessible and how to fund both their creation and maintenance.

Acknowledgements

POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:

  • Professor Stephen Morton; University of Southampton *
  • Professor Jules Pretty; University of Essex *
  • Professor Jim Harris; Cranfield University*
  • Julia Thrift; Town and Country Planning Association*
  • Richard Mitchell; Institute of Health and Wellbeing, University of Glasgow*
  • Scott Sellers; Defra
  • Gordon Scorer and Leah McNally; Wildlife Trust London
  • Professor Michael Depledge; Chair of Environment and Human Health at University of Exeter *
  • Dr Rebecca Lovell and Dr Ben Wheeler; University of Exeter*
  • Frances Harris; University of Hertfordshire
  • David Buck (Public health and health inequalities); The Kings Fund *
  • Jean-Pierre Schweitzer and Collective comments from other members of IEEP including specialists from Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL) M. Nieuwenhuijsen, M. Gascon and M. Triguero-Mas; Institute of European Environmental Policy*

*Denotes people who acted as external reviewers of the briefing.

POSTnotes POST-PN-0538

Authors: Jonathan Wentworth; Charlotte Clarke

Topics: Environmental protection, Health education and preventive medicine, Planning

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The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology produces independent, balanced and accessible briefings on public policy issues related to science and technology.