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Approved Research

Green space qualities and health outcomes in the general population

Principal Investigator: Dr Jonathan Olsen
Approved Research ID: 73613
Approval date: April 26th 2022

Lay summary

Poor mental health (including cognitive abilities) and cardiovascular disease are big public health problems that have impacts on a lot of people's lives. We know that being in and around nature can help prevent these problems. Increasing numbers live in cities these days and so our access to nature comes through places like parks and city woodlands. These 'green spaces' have different characteristics. For example, some are well-managed with football pitches, lawns, toilets and a few trees lining paths, but others might be woodlands with fewer facilities but perhaps lots of birds and wildlife. We use the word 'qualities' to describe these characteristics. There is already quite a lot of research about how to measure the qualities of a green space, but surprisingly, there is little research which asks which qualities bring greater benefits for mental health and cardiovascular disease. If you are a city planner or manager, there is no good evidence to tell you how to design, plan, create and manage your green spaces to best prevent these health problems. One obvious thing is that different kinds of green space will offer different kinds of qualities, and not everyone wants the same thing from a park or woodland. We think having a range of different kinds of green spaces with a reasonable distance of people's homes is probably more important than having just one that tries to offer everything.

To do this research we're going to measure the qualities of lots of different green spaces in the UK. Then we're going to join these new data together with existing data about people who live in those cities from the UKB. We have very good measures of mental health and the things that lead to cardiometabolic problems for lots of people who live in these cities. We'll ask whether some particular qualities of green spaces seem linked to better mental health and to lower risk of cardiometabolic diseases. In particular, we'll ask if these links are the same for different kinds of people. We have received UKRI-NHMRC funding and the expected duration of the study is 3 years.

Our results will also help people in other cities too. We'll make the data about green space qualities available for the public to see on a website and share our results with the people who plan and manage city environments globally. We will help nature help us all to stay healthier.