Nature plays a crucial role in physical and mental health, and early contact with the natural environment can help diminish problems with well-being later in life, according to the European study.
Researchers found that pregnant women with poor access to green spaces have higher blood pressure than those who don’t, while children who interact frequently with the natural environment are less likely to develop allergies. Childhood hyperactivity, obesity, relationship problems and emotional stress are proven to fall with an increase in interaction with nature.
The elderly also benefit, the paper suggests, with access to nature lowering mortality rates, in addition to helping improve the well-being of socio-economically disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.
Conducted by the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) for Friends of the Earth Europe (FoEE), the report states that people living in areas of deprivation are less likely to have access to green spaces, impacting on their quality of life.
“Deprived communities are routinely cut off from nature in their surroundings and it’s suffocating for their well-being,” says Robbie Blake, nature campaigner for FoEE.
Minorities, socially excluded groups and young people are under-represented in protected areas. Just over a quarter of England’s black and minority ethnic population visit natural areas three times a year or less, a figure that is considerably smaller (15%) among the rest of the population.
According to IEEP, closer proximity to natural areas drastically reduces health inequalities related to income, in turn offsetting the effects of deprivation. In deprived Scottish towns with significant green space, the death rate of Scottish middle-aged men was found to be 16% lower than those lacking access to nature.
“Giving communities an active right to nature will improve health, social integration and be a major step to reducing social and health inequalities,” says Patrick Ten Brink, Director at IEEP.
“Cities like Oslo and Victoria-Gasteiz are making nature accessible to all their citizens.” says Brink. “We should be inspired by this and work together so that all Europeans have nature within 300 metres of their homes in the next ten years.
Nature-based solutions for mental and physical health problems should be considered by care professionals, concludes the report, which calls for increased access to natural areas.