Surround Your Children With Green Space To Improve their Mental Health in Adulthood

It probably would not surprise you to hear that spending time outside is good for you, and particularly good for children.  But a new study says that experiencing natural spaces—full of green and brown colors and textures and smells—can actually help children grow into more fully-developed adults. 

Specifically, the study suggests that children who grow up spending time in—or living in—a green environment are actually at a 55 percent lower risk for developing mental disorders later in life.  Thus, the Aarhus University (Denmark) study emphasizes the importance of designing green spaces for healthy living, particularly in the big cities of the future. 

It also would not surprise you that more and more of the world’s population are living in city environments.  As a matter of fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 450 million of our global human population suffer a mental disorder; and that number is on the rise.

The study looked at satellite data collected between 1985 and 2013, mapping green spaces around childhood homes of nearly one million Danish families. From there, they compared the data against the risk for developing any of 16 different mental disorders.  Sure enough, they found—after adjusting for other known risk factors including urbanization, family history, and socio-economic status—those who grew up around high amounts of green spaces could be at a 55 percent lower risk for developing these disorders. 

Study leader Kristine Engemann comments, “Our data is unique. We had the opportunity to use a massive amount of data from Danish registers of, among other things, residential location and disease diagnoses and compare it with satellite images revealing the extent of green space surrounding each individual when growing up.”

Engemann is a postdoctoral student in the Department of Bioscience and National Center for Register-based Research at Aarhus University. She continues, “With our dataset, we show that the risk of developing mental disorders decreases incrementally the longer you have been surrounded by green space from birth and up to the age of 10. Green space throughout childhood is therefore extremely important.”

She also concludes that we continue to see more and more evidence that consistent exposure to a natural environment has a massive impact on mental health.

The results of this study have been published in the American Journal PNAS.  

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