Researchers will collaborate with urban planners and policy makers to investigate the health benefits of urban green spaces in a project that has won $1.45 million of funding from an international research collaboration.
The project, Better Parks, Healthier for All, will see researchers engage with decision makers and urban planners to investigate the mental health and cardiometabolic benefits of green city spaces.
It’s being funded by the UKRI-NHMRC Built Environment and Prevention Research Scheme and will be led by Associate Professor Xiaoqi Feng from UNSW and Professor Richard Mitchell from Glasgow University.
It will bring together researchers from NSW and Queensland as well as local health districts in Western Sydney and South Western Sydney.
The project will harness scientific, clinical and industry expertise in epidemiology, environmental data science, health policy and urban greening to provide evidence on health-promoting qualities of urban green space, UNSW says.
Results will be shared with planners and policymakers to maximise health gains from green spaces in cities across Australia and the UK.
Associate Professor Feng says evidence shows that the health of cities is influenced by access to nature, however scant research has been conducted in this area.
“Collaborating throughout this project will enable us to co-design and identify through epidemiological analysis which green space qualities improve health and narrow socioeconomic health inequities,” she said in a statement.
“Given the trend of rapid urbanisation, it is vital to understand how we can (re)design these settings to promote better health for everyone.”
Benefits of green space across all ages
Professor Feng’s previous studies have shown that green space can influence health across childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
Research published in 2017 showed that 12 to 13-year-olds living in suburbs with more than 40 per cent green space had 14 per cent fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, compared with those in suburbs with less than 20 per cent of landcover comprising green space.
Another study, published in 2018, found green space could boost mood in adults, including young mothers, who had 26 per cent lower odds of reporting psychological distress, compared to mothers without good quality green space nearby.
“I also discovered that adults over 45 years with 30 per cent tree canopy cover within 1.6km of their home had 31 per cent lower odds of incident psychological distress over six years, compared to peers with less than 10 per cent tree canopy cover,” she said.
The UKRI-NHMRC collaboration provides financial backing for research to further understanding of the relationship between non-communicable diseases and the built environment.
Four other projects to receive funding under the scheme will look at supporting active travel, the impact of built environments on childhood obesity and cognitive decline and the use of digital technology in designing urban spaces that improve health.
The NHMRC says each project will combine evidence and analysis from Australia and the UK to further understanding of the impacts of built environments on population health, including understanding any differences between the two countries.
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