Parks and public health: Study finds less smoking in green neighborhoods2 November 2020
Now there’s a new reason to protect greenspace in our urban neighborhoods: a European study that finds lower rates of smoking, and especially more success in quitting, when people live around parks, trees and gardens.
The findings are based on a sample of 8,059 people living in the UK who participated in the annual Health Survey for England (HSE) and answered questions about where they live, their health and other lifestyle factors. It was conducted by psychologists at the University of Plymouth, the University of Exeter and the University of Vienna, with the results available online through the journal Social Science & Medicine.
What the scientists found, after controlling for other factors such as income and education, is a 20 percent lower rate of current smoking in “greener” neighborhoods when compared with those living in the lowest greenspace quartile.
“While there is now considerable evidence that natural spaces are associated with stress reduction and better well-being, this is the first study to my knowledge to show that more greenspace is also linked to a reduction in unhealthy behaviors,” said Sabine Pahl, a professor of Urban and Environmental Psychology at the University of Vienna.
“This is intriguing and suggests that the benefits of natural green and blue spaces may reach even further than initially thought.”
At 19 percent, nearly a fifth of the HSE survey respondents overall said they were current smokers while 45 percent said they had been regular smokers at some earlier point during their lives. In addition to the lower overall smoking rate among those with access to more nature in the neighborhood – and perhaps even more intriguing – was the success rate in quitting among former smokers, who were up to 12 percent more likely to be successful in kicking the tobacco habit.
Lead author Leanne Martin of the University of Plymouth says the findings are a call to protect and invest in natural resources to boost the public health benefits for both urban and more rural communities. “If our findings are substantiated by further work, nature-based interventions could be prescribed to assist individuals attempting to give up smoking,” she added.
Previous studies by the same scientists have demonstrated that being able to see greenspace from home is linked with reduced cravings for alcohol, cigarettes and unhealthy foods. They’re also among scientists who have shown that individuals who visit parks, trails and gardens weekly, and feel a psychological connection to them, report a better sense of physical and mental wellness. The link between greenspace and reduced stress may be part of the reason for the lower smoking rates.
Improved access to yards and gardens may indeed be an overlooked public health strategy in smoking reduction, which co-author Mathew White notes is still a global health problem despite progress on smoking rates.
“Governments across the world spend billions each year trying to tackle it, both in an attempt to improve public health and reduce the strain on health services,” White said. “This study emphasizes the need to preserve existing green spaces and expand the development of new ones.”
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