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Growing up with green spaces can lower risk of adult mental illness

A new study from Aarhus University has revealed that children who grow up with greener surroundings have a much lower risk of developing certain mental illnesses later in life. The findings highlight the importance of creating greener cities to benefit mental health.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 450 million people suffer from mental disorders, and this number is expected to increase.

The researchers used satellite data to examine the presence of green space surrounding the childhood homes of nearly one million people in Denmark. This information was compared with the risk of developing 16 different mental disorders.

The study revealed that children living among green spaces were 55 percent less likely to develop a mental health disorder.

Study lead author Kristine Engemann is an expert in the Department of Bioscience and the National Centre for Register-based Research at Aarhus University.

“Our data is unique. 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,” said Engemann.

Previous studies have shown that more green space promotes greater social cohesion and physical activity. Green space has also been found to improve cognitive development among children. These factors can all have a positive impact on mental health.

“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. Green space throughout childhood is therefore extremely important,” explained Engemann.

“There is increasing evidence that the natural environment plays a larger role for mental health than previously thought. Our study is important in giving us a better understanding of its importance across the broader population.”

As the number of people living in the world’s cities continues to grow, the research has important implications for urban planning.

Study co-author Professor Jens-Christian Svenning added, “The coupling between mental health and access to green space in your local area is something that should be considered even more in urban planning to ensure greener and healthier cities and improve mental health of urban residents in the future.”

The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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