The Gravity of Green Space

Expanses of green—from parks to forests to river corridors—decrease the disparity between the health of the rich and the health of the poor. A study published earlier this month in the Lancet showed that green spaces, even if they’re just playing fields, not only promote exercise and reduce stress, which combat circulatory disease, they also make good health accessible to everyone across the socioeconomic spectrum.

“We knew green space was good for you, but we didn’t know that it could combat health inequalities,” says Richard Mitchell, the lead author of the study and an epidemiologist at the University of Glasgow. 

In cities or towns where there aren’t any natural areas, it’s usually harder for someone without wealth to access environments that promote a healthy lifestyle. People with a lot of money can join a gym or drive to a park, while people without a lot of money often cannot. But most of the time, anyone can take a walk along a river corridor or through the woods if it’s nearby.

The scientific data collected by the scientists were astounding. In the greenest areas, the difference between the death rate of the rich versus the death rate of the poor was half of what it was in areas without a lot of green.

As a result of their findings, the authors of the study argue that natural areas must be protected. “We need more, higher quality green spaces,” says Mitchell, an epidemiologist.

Terry Hartig, from the Institute for Housing and Urban Research in Uppsala University in Sweden, goes even further in an article in the same issue of the publication: “Mitchell and Popham offer valuable evidence that green space does more than pretty up the neighbourhood; it seems to have real effects on the health inequality, of a kind that politicians and health authorities should take seriously.”

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