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Approved research

Natural Environments and Wellbeing in the UK

Principal Investigator: Dr Daniela Fecht
Approved Research ID: 4236
Approval date: May 29th 2018

Lay summary

Exposure to natural environments, including urban greenspace, has been associated with beneficial health outcomes. We propose using data from UK Biobank to explore the impact of the natural environment on health and wellbeing and elucidate the mechanisms by which this modifiable aspect of the environment influences health. Specifically, we aim to: 1) Develop mechanism-specific measures of exposure to aspects of the natural environment; 2) Assess the relationships of specific natural environment exposures and i) physical activity; ii) relevant effect biomarkers; and iii) mental and physical health; 3) Explore the impact of gender, age and socio-demographics on these relationships. Exposure to natural environments has been associated with increased life expectancy, reduced all-cause and cause-specific mortality, improved perceived general and mental health, and accelerated recovery from illness. Our project aims to better understand how the natural environment might be utilised as a resource for promoting health and wellbeing. This aim aligns well with the UK Biobank aim of preventing a wide range of serious and life-threatening illnesses ? including heart diseases, stroke, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis and depression ? diseases which have been linked to natural environment exposure. UK Biobank participants will be assigned address-level measures of exposure to a variety of established and novel indicators of aspects of the natural environment. The association between these measures of natural environment exposure and a range of indicators of health and wellbeing (physical activity/sedentary behaviour, social support, psychological factors/mental health, blood pressure, blood biochemistry markers, anthropometry and cause-specific mortality and morbidity) will be assessed at the individual-level, with adjustment for potentially confounding variables. Stratified analyses will be undertaken to assess the effect of age, gender and socio-demographic characteristics on associations observed. We would include the full UK Biobank cohort in our main analyses. We also propose the following subset analyses: a) Natural environment exposure and levels of physical activity in participants with seven day accelerometer data (~100,000); b) Assessment of the impact of specific vegetation types (tree canopy coverage versus ground cover vegetation) using detailed vegetation data available for Greater London (~60,000); c) For novel exposure measures, e.g. air pollution estimates that are partially estimated based on green space coverage, analyses are likely to be restricted to a geographically defined subset due to data availability and processing requirements.