Making America’s cities greener could have saved thousands of lives

News Photo: Making America's cities greener could have saved thousands of lives

TUESDAY, May 24, 2022 (HealthDay News)

Creating more parks and other green spaces could have averted tens of thousands of deaths in dozens of major US cities over the past two decades, a new study said.

“We know that living in greener areas can have a positive impact on our physical and mental healthbut there is a lack of data on how changes in greenery distribution may affect mortality rates across the country,” said study lead author Paige Brochu. She is a doctoral candidate at the Boston University School of Public Health.

“Our study quantifies the impact of expanding greenery in urban areas and shows how increasing green vegetation could potentially increase a person’s life expectancy. Policy makers and urban planners can use these information to support local climate action plans and ensure those plans include greening initiatives,” Brochu said in a university press release.

For the study, the researchers used US census data, death data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and greenery data from NASA satellites. They assessed how the amount of green space in 35 major US cities affected all-cause mortality among adults aged 65 and older.

Across the 35 cities, investigators concluded that between about 34,000 and 38,000 deaths — or about 15 to 20 deaths per 10,000 seniors — could have been prevented between 2000 and 2019 with a 0.1 increase in normalized difference vegetation index – a measure of green space.

On a positive note, researchers also estimated that overall greenery in cities increased by almost 3% between 2000 and 2010, and by about 11% from 2010 to 2019. The largest regional increase occurred in the South, from 0.40% in 2000 to 0.47% in 2019, according to the report published recently in the journal Frontiers in public health.

So-called urban forests help mitigate flooding, improve air, and regulate temperatures, among other benefits.

Greening may not be feasible in all cities due to differences in climate, water sources, urbanization, and landscape, but these results can be used by city planners to assess local changes in greening over time and develop appropriate climate action plans in their cities, according to Brochu.

“Increasing greenery in an arid southwest climate is different from increasing greenery in an urban area of ​​the Pacific Northwest,” Brochu said. “If a region’s climate makes it difficult to plant lush trees, city planners can use this greenery data as a starting point and consider other types of vegetation that may be more realistic for their local climate.”

More information

The National Recreation and Park Association describes the health benefits of green spaces.

SOURCE: Boston University School of Public Health, press release, May 19, 2022

By Robert Preidt Health Day Journalist

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