Greener cities help reduce the risk of premature death

A study led by researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health provides solid evidence that can help policymakers assess the health impact of green spaces in cities.

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Urban greenery can protect against premature mortality, according to an investigation conducted by the Institute for Global Health in Barcelona (ISGlobal) and published in The Lancet Planetary Health. The analysis, which included nine studies involving seven countries (Canada, the United States, Spain, Italy, Australia, Switzerland and China), provides strong evidence of the effects of urban green spaces on mortality.

More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities, where there is often a lack of green space, and according to the UN, by 2050 two thirds of the population will reside in urban areas. Academia and related studies suggest that green spaces in cities have a positive effect on health, including less stress, better mental health and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and premature death, among others.

In this regard, trees play a key role in reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide through carbon storage and sequestration, and have been shown to have beneficial psychosomatic effects in reducing high levels of stress and developing a more positive emotional state, particularly in urban areas.

However, many of these studies focus only on a specific point in time and use different ways to measure exposure to green spaces. Therefore, the ISGlobal research team decided to summarise the available evidence and focus on studies that followed the same cohort of individuals over several years and examine premature mortality as a health outcome.

The analysis of these studies found that an increase in greenery around residential areas is significantly associated with a reduction in premature mortality. These findings support local interventions and policies to increase green space as a strategy to improve public health, as well as to estimate the number of premature deaths that could be avoided if ambitious goals to increase green infrastructure were pursued.

Full reference

Rojas-Rueda, D., Nieuwenhuijsen, M. J., Gascon, M., Perez-Leon, D., & Mudu, P. 2019. Green spaces and mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studiesThe Lancet Planetary Health3(11), e469-e477.ISO 690

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EFIMED is the Mediterranean Facility of the European Forest Institute. Based in Barcelona, Spain, it was launched in 2007.