Children and young people living near woodlands are better, and have a lower risk of emotional and behavioural problems. The green patches also support better cognitive development, according to scientists from UCL and Imperial College London.
The researchers concluded this after analysing data of 3,568 children from schools across London. They reviewed the children’s daily exposure to a variety of natural urban environments around their residential area. The analysis was made from a self-reported Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) and KIDSCREEN-10 Questionnaire. The study that is considered one of the largest studies of its kind, analysed children aged between nine and 15.
The children of this age group was chosen as it is the period when children develop an understanding and perception of the world, accessing reasoning and emotional intelligence.
The study found that exposure to woodlands helped the children more than grasslands. It also led to a 16 per cent lower risk of emotional and behavioural problems two years later. The researchers maintained that the same effect of woodlands on children was seen for green spaces such as meadows and parks. The proximity near woodlands and green patches showed higher scores for cognitive development than those living near blue spaces (lakes, rivers and sea). The UCL researchers noted that proximity to natural environments at school could also impact the overall well-being of children. The scientists used satellite data to calculate each adolescent’s daily exposure rate to green and blue spaces, within 50m, 100m, 250m and 500m of their home and school.
Reports said that one in 10 children and young people (five in 16) suffered from a clinical mental illness in London. The researchers believe that their findings could help in influencing future planning decisions in urban areas to optimise ecosystem benefits.
Though the study makes it clear that natural environments contribute positively to young people’s mental health and cognitive development, it is yet to be determined how these environments have that power.
Lead author Mikael Moes (UCL Geography, UCL Biosciences and Imperial College London School of Public Health) said: “Previous studies have revealed positive associations between exposure to nature in urban environments, cognitive development and mental health. Why these health benefits are received remains unclear, especially in adolescents.”
The Natural Environment Research Council, the Medical Research Council and the National Institute for Health Research, and involved researchers from UCL, Imperial College London and Birkbeck, University of London supported the study.