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Do greener areas promote more equitable child health?

Summary


Urban greening, while perhaps not the answer for “leveling-up” the life chances of children in disadvantaged areas, can be an effective strategy for promoting the general health of all children

Will urban greening promote better health equally for all people, or will some groups benefit more than others? This question was addressed by research involving over 10,000 Australian children. Previous research indicates that people in socioeconomically disadvantaged circumstances may benefit more from local green space than other groups. Such studies, however, focused on adults. Studies that have included children were limited to birth outcomes versus general childhood health. This study addressed the gap in the literature by focusing on the potential for urban greening to narrow socioeconomic inequities in child health. The process of “leveling-up” the life chances of people in disadvantaged areas is referred to as ‘equigenesis.’

Data collected and analyzed for this study included (a) child general health, (b) disadvantage status of residential area, (c) quantity of green space exposure, and (d) quality of green space exposure. Participant data was obtained from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children which reflects a nationally representative sample of children birth to age 13. Participant data included parent-report information about their child’s general health. This data allowed the researchers to distinguish between children considered by their parent to be in sub-optimal versus optimal general health. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics regarding area disadvantage was linked to every participant. Objective measures of quantity of green space exposure were based on percentage of land-use covered by green space within a specified area around each participant’s residence. Quality of green space exposure was based on parent report. For this, parents were asked to indicate their level of agreement to a statement describing their neighborhood as having good parks, playgrounds and play spaces.

According to parent report, 75% of the children lived in a neighborhood where the quality of green space was agreeable. Children living in the more disadvantaged areas generally had less exposure to both quantity and quality of green space than other children. They were also more likely to have sub-optimal health. The odds of sub-optimal general health were 14% lower for children in areas containing more than 21.5% green space compared to those with less than 10%. The odds of sub-optimal child health were 18% lower for children whose parents reported higher quality green space. There was no convincing evidence that the health benefits of higher green space quantity or parent-reported quality impacted children living in disadvantaged areas differently than their peers living in more affluent neighborhoods. This study, then, does not support the idea that urban greening could help to ameliorate socioeconomic inequities in child health.

These results, however, do support urban greening and the provision of good quality green space for improving population health. Urban greening may be especially important for children, as they tend to be more sensitive to environmental exposures and their impacts on health. This study suggests that a minimum of 21.5% green space may yield better child health.

Citation

Feng, X., Astell-Burt, T., (2017). Do greener areas promote more equitable child health?. Health & Place, 46, 267-273.

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