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Exposure to public natural space as a protective factor for emotional well-being among young people in Canada


Mixed findings for the impact of exposure to public natural spaces on youths’ emotional well-being

Literature has highlighted the positive effect of exposure to nature on stress reduction and attention restoration. However, there are few population-based studies of the relationship between nature and emotional well-being of adolescents in Canada. The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between public natural space and positive emotional well-being of Canadian adolescents using a cross-sectional study.

This study used data from the 2009/10 Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) survey from 17,249 qualifying students in grades 6 to 10 within 317 schools. Participants were mostly Caucasian (71%) and from more financially secure families (57%). Exposure to nature was measured by total area of public natural space, green space and blue space (water) within a 5km radius of each individual’s school as measured by GIS (geographic information system) data. Adolescent self-reported emotional well-being was measured using the Cantril ladder, which asks youth to rank their current state of life on a 10-point scale, from worst possible (0) to best possible (10). A number of potential covariates were measured, including demographics, youth-reported family socio-economic status, youth-perceived neighborhood safety, school administrator-perceived neighborhood aesthetics, and census derived neighborhood socio-economic status and urban/rural geographic location.

The findings of this study indicated that, in general, the public natural spaces were not strongly or consistently associated with positive emotional well-being, though blue space was slightly more predictive of well-being than green space. Emotional well-being was more strongly predicted by individual rather than environmental variables, including male gender, younger age, Caucasian ethnic background, higher family socio-economic status, and perceptions of higher neighborhood safety. However, specific analyses revealed that children in small cities showed a slightly stronger (but not statistically significant) relationship between well-being and natural space.



Huynh, Q., Craig, W., Janssen, I., Pickett, W., (2013). Exposure to public natural space as a protective factor for emotional well-being among young people in Canada. BMC Public Health, 13(407)


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