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Neighborhood green space linked to lower rates of smoking

For the first time, researchers have found a link between access to nature and reduced smoking rates. According to a study led by the University of Plymouth, people who live in neighborhoods with green space are more likely to be able to kick the habit.  

The study revealed that lower rates of smoking found in greener neighborhoods were largely tied to former smokers who had successfully quit.

“This study is the first to investigate the association between neighborhood green space and smoking behaviors in England. Its findings support the need to protect and invest in natural resources – in both urban and more rural communities – in order to maximize the public health benefits they may afford,” said lead author Leanne Martin. 

“If our findings are substantiated by further work, nature-based interventions could be prescribed to assist individuals attempting to give up smoking.”

The Plymouth team used data on more than 8,000 adults from the Health Survey for England (HSE), which is conducted annually. The researchers analyzed responses about health and various lifestyle factors, as well as about where the participants lived.

Among the participants, just under 19 percent were current smokers, while nearly half were former smokers that had smoked regularly at some point in life. 

After accounting for other factors known to influence smoking, people living in areas with a high proportion of green space were 20 percent less likely to be current smokers compared to individuals with less green space.

“While there is now considerable evidence that natural spaces are associated with stress reduction and better well-being, this is the first study to my knowledge to show that more green space is also linked to a reduction in unhealthy behaviors is intriguing and suggests that the benefits of natural green and blue spaces may reach even further than initially thought,” said study co-author Professor Sabine Pahl.

The researchers said that improving access to green space may constitute an overlooked public health strategy for reducing smoking prevalence, especially given that smoking uptake and cessation are affected by stress.

In previous studies, the same research team found that being able to see green spaces from home was associated with reduced cravings for alcohol, cigarettes, and unhealthy foods. The experts also discovered that individuals who visit natural spaces on a weekly basis, and feel mentally connected to them, report better overall physical and mental well-being.

“Despite a decline in prevalence within the general population over the last decade, smoking remains a devastating and global public health issue,” said study co-author Professor Mathew White. “Governments across the world spend billions each year trying to tackle it, both in an attempt to improve public health and reduce the strain on health services. This study emphasises the need to preserve existing green spaces and expand the development of new ones.”

The study is published in the journal Social Science and Medicine.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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