Ciudades más verdes, gente más sana

Greener Cities, Healthier People

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Recent studies have shown that people in greener areas live longer, have less risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, mental health problems and adverse birth outcomes such as low birth weight, have better sleep patterns and recover better from illness.  Furthermore it has been suggested that it reduces aggression and crime.  Benefits appeared to be larger for more deprived neighbourhoods and women.

The underlying mechanisms that have been proposed are an increase in physical activity and social contacts/cohesion, a possible reduction of stress and/or better restoration, and a reduction in environmental exposures such as air pollution, noise and temperature, but their contribution is still uncertain and generally they have been studied in isolation.

I'm the coordinator of the EC funded project PHENOTYPE at CREAL, which investigates the interconnections between natural outdoor environments. PHENOTYPE explores the proposed underlying mechanisms simultaneous in 4 cities in Europe (1000 subjects each) and examines in 16 populations the health effects (e.g. general health and wellbeing, mental health/neural development, stress, cardiovascular, cancer and respiratory mortality and morbidity, birth outcomes and obesity) for different population groups (e.g. pregnant women and/or foetus, different age groups, socioeconomic status, ethnic groups, and patients). It implements conventional and new innovative high tech methods such as GIS, remote sensing and smartphone technology (100 subjects in each city) to characterize the natural environment in terms of quality and quantity. Preventive as well as therapeutic effects of contact with the natural environment are being covered. PHENOTYPE further addresses implications for land-use planning and green space management.

Further work on green space and health is conducted in other EC funded projects BREATH, examining the effect on brain function in children, and HELIX as part of constructing the early life exposome, and in the Spanish INMA birth cohort. 

The work will inform, amongst others, policy makers, urban planners and green space managers and is expected to lead in improvements in the urban built environment including green space which is expected to lead to an improvement in health. Greener cities, healthier people.

*Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, Coordinator of the PHENOTYPE project (CREAL)