More exposure to vegetation linked with lower mortality rates in women

Green leaves

More exposure to vegetation linked with lower mortality rates in women

 

Women in the US whose homes are surrounded by more vegetation appear to have significantly lower mortality rates than those who live in areas with less vegetation, according to a study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women's Hospital. During an eight year study period, there were fewer deaths among women who lived in the greenest surroundings - their mortality rate was 12% lower than those living in homes in the least green areas.

Mortality rate is a measure of the number of deaths in a particular population for a specific period of time.

Key findings

The study suggests several mechanisms that may link greenness and mortality rates. Improved mental health, measured through lower levels of depression, was estimated to explain nearly 30% of the benefit from living around greater vegetation. Also potentially playing an important role were increased opportunities for social engagement, higher physical activity, and lower exposure to air pollution.

"We were surprised to observe such strong associations between increased exposure to greenness and lower mortality rates," said Peter James, research associate in the Harvard Chan School Department of Epidemiology. "We were even more surprised to find evidence that a large proportion of the apparent benefit from high levels of vegetation seems to be connected with improved mental health."


The study 

The study incorporated data on 108,630 women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study across the United States in 2000-2008. The researchers compared the participants’ rate of mortality within the study period with the level of vegetation surrounding their homes, which was calculated using satellite imagery from different seasons and from different years. The researchers accounted for other mortality risk factors, such as age, socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, and smoking behaviors.

When the researchers looked at specific causes of death among the study participants, they found that associations between higher amounts of greenness and lower mortality rates were strongest for respiratory disease and cancer mortality. Women living in areas with the most vegetation had a 34% lower rate of respiratory disease-related mortality and a 13% lower rate of cancer mortality compared with those with the least vegetation around their homes. These more specific findings were consistent with some of the proposed benefits of greener areas, including that they may buffer air pollution and noise exposures and provide opportunities for physical activity.
 

“We know that planting vegetation can help the environment by reducing wastewater loads, sequestering carbon, and mitigating the effects of climate change. Our new findings suggest a possible co-benefit - improving health - that presents planners, landscape architects, and policy makers with an potential tool to grow healthier places,” said James.

 

 

Click here to view the full study.

 

 

Datz, T. (2016). More exposure to vegetation linked with lower mortality rates in women. [online] Harvard T.H. Chan. Available at: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/plants-death-rates-women/?fbclid=IwAR0qrwPH2mZpSPHImBgpyRRggmMPn4a54SuO17IoyV-y0tZfoP2X3ol6Zg4 [Accessed 22 Jul. 2019].

 

 “Exposure to Greenness and Mortality in a Nationwide Prospective Cohort Study of Women,” Peter James, Jaime E. Hart, Rachel F. Banay, Francine Laden, Environmental Health Perspectives, online April 14, 2016, doi: 101289/ehp.1510363

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