The research, published ahead of print in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health is based on the health records of people registered with 195 family doctors in 95 practices across the Netherlands. Between them, the practices serve a population of almost 350,000.
The percentages of green space within a 1- and 3-kilometer (roughly half a mile to two mile) radius of their home were calculated using the household’s postcode. On average, green space accounted for 42 percent of the residential area within a 1-kilometer radius and almost 61 percent within a 3-kilometer radius of people’s homes.
Green space within a kilometer radius of an individual’s home had the most impact on rates of ill health.
The annual rates of 15 of 24 different disease clusters, categorized as cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, mental ill health, respiratory disease, neurological disease, digestive disease, and miscellaneous complaints were significantly lower among those living close to more extensive areas of green space.
The impact was especially noticeable on rates of mental ill health.
The annual prevalence of anxiety disorders among those living in a residential area containing 10 percent of green space within a 1-kilometer radius of their home was 26 per 1000, and for those living in an area containing 90 percent of green space it was 18 per 1000. Similarly, the figures for depression were, respectively, 32 and 24 per 1000 of the population.
The association was strongest for those who spent a lot of time in the vicinity – children and those with low levels of education and income – as well as those between the ages of 45 and 65. Exactly how the provision of green space affects health is not clear, but it may indicate better air quality as well as offering opportunities for relaxation, destressing, socializing and exercise, suggest the authors.
“This study shows that the role of green space in the living environment for health should not be underestimated,” they conclude, adding that many of the diseases and disorders on which green space seems to exert a positive influence are common and costly to treat.