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International Day of Forests: Green spaces reduce health risks

Forests and green spaces reduce human health risks on a global scale, according to a new report from the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO). The assessment is the most comprehensive of its kind. 

For the investigation, 44 scientists from around the world  teamed up to review scientific evidence of the human health benefits associated with forests, trees and green spaces. 

The experts say that in order to address health challenges, it is important to recognize the close links between human health and the health of other species, of ecosystems, and of the planet as a whole.

Existing evidence shows that forests and green spaces have positive effects on cognitive aging and longevity and protective effects against diabetes, cancer, depression, and stress-related disorders. According to the study authors, the significant effects on neurodevelopment in children are particularly important, not least because of repercussions in later life.

The experts report that 24 percent of global deaths are due to air pollution, extreme weather events, and other negative environmental factors. Premature deaths and disease can be prevented through the healthier environments that are provided by forests.

In addition, green spaces help reduce the negative health impacts of climate change. For example, as heatwaves become more frequent and intense, green spaces provide a cooling effect. 

“The report underpins a One Health perspective, which recognizes that the health of humans, animals, plants, and the wider environment are closely linked and interdependent. It suggests that decision-makers in forest, health and related domains should also adopt more integrative perspectives for addressing forest-human health relations,” said Cecil Konijnendijk of the University of British Columbia.

“By linking forest and human health policies and strategies, new and innovative solutions for health and forest challenges can be identified.” 

The study authors say the relationship between forests, trees, green spaces, and human health is complex. “Forests and trees provide multiple goods and services that contribute to human health, including medicines, nutritious food and non-wood forest products.”

‘They also support climate change mitigation and adaptation, moderate microcli-mate, filter air pollutants and offer areas for recreation, all of which can contribute to better physical, mental and spiritual health and well-being.”

“At the same time, poor practices in the conservation and management of forests and trees have contributed to adverse effects on human health and wellbeing, with the emergence of zoonotic diseases and forest fires.”

Regardless, the team found that most of the human health effects of forests and green spaces are positive. The experts note that decision-makers should promote positive forest and tree health outcomes while minimizing and managing potential negative impacts, especially on vulnerable populations.

The full report from the Global Forest Expert Panel (GFEP) on Forests and Human Health is available online

By Chrissy Sexton, Editor

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