Only men gain health benefits from green spaces

Issued: Fri, 11 Jun 2010 15:38:00 BST

Men who live in neighbourhoods with more green space are less likely to die from heart or lung problems – but this benefit does not extend to women, according to new research.

Researchers from Glasgow and the University of Edinburgh looked at the availability of green spaces – such as parks, playing fields and woodlands – in urban neighbourhoods across the UK, and compared rates of death from heart or lung conditions in areas with different amounts of green space. The study also took into account differences such as levels of wealth and air pollution

They found that men living in the greenest neighbourhoods were about 10% less likely to die from lung problems than those in the least green neighbourhoods, but there was no difference for women.

Professor Richard Mitchell at the University's Public Health and Health Policy department, led the study. 

He said: “The result was a real surprise, because up to now the assumption has been that green spaces are good for everyone. Our study shows that it is important to guard against such assumptions.”

Dr Elizabeth Richardson of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, a co-author, added: “The study was about measuring any health benefits of green space, so we can’t say for certain why we found the difference between men and women.

“We know from other studies that women tend to use green spaces less than men and are less likely to use them for exercise, particularly if the green space doesn’t feel safe. That might be an explanation. Further work is needed to investigate this.”

Professor Mitchell continued: “Reducing the risk of death is quite a lot to ask of our parks and woodlands. The fact that we did see lower risks of death for some people is impressive. In this time of financial cutbacks, policy makers should look to protect our parks and woodlands.”

The study, which looked at statistics for 29 million working age adults, is the first to explore the link between green space and health across all urban areas in the UK, and the first to look at differences in health benefits between men and women.

The findings were published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, and funded by the Forestry Commission.

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