Children surrounded by little green space have a 55% higher risk of developing a mental disorder in adolescence or adulthood, compared with children who grow up around lots of green space, according to a study published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
"With our dataset, we show that the risk of developing a mental disorder decreases incrementally the longer you have been surrounded by green space from birth and up to the age of 10,” said researcher Kristine Engemann, PhD, of Aarhus University in Denmark. “Green space throughout childhood is therefore extremely important.”
For the study, researchers used satellite data from 1985 to 2013 to map the presence of green space around the childhood homes of nearly a million people in Denmark. Then they looked at the subsequent incidence of 16 mental disorders.
“Our data is unique,” Dr. Engemann noted. “We have had the opportunity to use a massive amount of data from Danish registers of, among other things, residential location and disease diagnoses and compare it with satellite images revealing the extent of green space surrounding each individual when growing up.”
The 55% increased risk across various mental disorders identified by researchers held even after they adjusted for other factors associated with increased risk for mental disorders, such as urbanization, socioeconomic factors, parental history of mental illness, and parental age.
“There is increasing evidence that the natural environment plays a larger role for mental health than previously thought,” Dr. Engemann said. “Our study is important in giving us a better understanding of its importance across the broader population.”
Engemann K, Pedersen CB, Arge L, Tsirogiannis C, Mortensen PB, Svenning JC. Residential green space in childhood is associated with lower risk of psychiatric disorders from adolescence into adulthood. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2019 February 25;[Epub ahead of print].