According to a new Danish study, open spaces are perhaps one of the least expensive treatments for children. Children growing up in the wild are up to 55% less likely to develop various mental disorders later in life, according to the Aarhus University Denmark document, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States of America.
The research used satellite data from 1985 to 2013 to map the proximity of green spaces to children's homes of 943,027 Danes, from birth to 10 years, for whom they had longitudinal data on mental health outcomes. , socio-economic status and place of residence. The study then compared green space access to mental health outcome data for this population and found that consistent access suggested a significant difference in the risk of developing one of the 16 different mental disorders later in life.
"If you are surrounded by green spaces steadily throughout your childhood, you will have an even lower risk of being diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder," said Kristine Engemann, Principal Investigator. , a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Bioscience and the National Registry Research Center. at the University of Aarhus.
The mechanism by which children's mental health improves with access to green spaces is unclear. But we know that getting closer to nature has health benefits: it can encourage exercise and improve social cohesion. If you spend a lot of time in the park, you will get to know your neighbors better and develop a sense of investment in your community. Time spent outdoors is also associated with improved cognition. A study in Barcelona examined the cognitive development of children in one year in two different contexts, while controlling for socio-economic status and family history. Children attending schools with more green spaces have a higher cognitive development than those who have access to fewer green spaces. (In these two studies, correlation is not a cause, researchers can not show that it was the green space that improved cognitive scores, but only that those who had access to more nature had better performance. cognitive.)
"Being in an urban environment is usually what we consider stressful," Engemann said. Noise, air pollution, infections and poor socio-economic conditions can increase the risk of developing a mental disorder. There is also less space for children to let off steam. For children, if you come home from school and have a beautiful yard or go to the park, it could help children restore their mental capacity more quickly, "she said.
The number of urban dwellers is growing rapidly and more than 50% of the world's population now lives in cities. While urban centers generally offer better access to health and education resources, as well as jobs, it is clear that the health of the population suffers. The study cites studies showing that in some places city dwellers are almost 50% more likely to develop psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and mood disorders compared to their peers. rural areas.
Engemann explains that at a global level, cities tend to "densify", that is, build more buildings at the expense of creating green spaces. "I think it's important to recognize the value of green spaces, not because they're pretty or decorative, but they can present real benefits to city-dwellers." Urban planners, she said, should focus on biophilic design, design with an eye toward connecting humans and nature.
Green spaces, she said, "could potentially reduce the risk of developing many disorders and could bring many potential benefits to many people."