Department of Economics and Business Economics

Residential green space in childhood is associated with lower risk of psychiatric disorders from adolescence into adulthood

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Urban residence is associated with a higher risk of some psychiatric disorders, but the underlying drivers remain unknown. There is increasing evidence that the level of exposure to natural environments impacts mental health, but few large-scale epidemiological studies have assessed the general existence and importance of such associations. Here, we investigate the prospective association between green space and mental health in the Danish population. Green space presence was assessed at the individual level using high-resolution satellite data to calculate the normalized difference vegetation index within a 210 × 210 m square around each person's place of residence (∼1 million people) from birth to the age of 10. We show that high levels of green space presence during childhood are associated with lower risk of a wide spectrum of psychiatric disorders later in life. Risk for subsequent mental illness for those who lived with the lowest level of green space during childhood was up to 55% higher across various disorders compared with those who lived with the highest level of green space. The association remained even after adjusting for urbanization, socioeconomic factors, parental history of mental illness, and parental age. Stronger association of cumulative green space presence during childhood compared with single-year green space presence suggests that presence throughout childhood is important. Our results show that green space during childhood is associated with better mental health, supporting efforts to better integrate natural environments into urban planning and childhood life.

Original languageEnglish
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Pages (from-to)5188-5193
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 2019

    Research areas

  • geographic information systems, mental health, psychological ecosystem services, remote sensing, urban planning, URBAN-RURAL DIFFERENCES, HEALTH-BENEFITS, SOCIAL STRESS, SCHIZOPHRENIA, ENVIRONMENT, EXPERIENCE, AREAS, BIRTH, Humans, Risk Factors, Mental Disorders/epidemiology, Adolescent, Denmark, Urbanization, Adult, Environment, Child

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