According to a new study from the University of Miami, more green space can be linked to a reduction in chronic illness in low-to-middle income neighborhoods. The study looked at health data from 2010-2011 for 250,000 Miami-Dade county Medicare beneficiaries over 65 as well as vegetation measurements based on NASA satellite imagery. The researchers found that blocks with higher levels of greenness saw 14% less risk of diabetes, 13% less hypertension, and 10% less lipid disorders. It’s the first study of its kind.
This is really interesting news, but it’s not that big of a surprise. Trees and other plants have a lot of benefits, and neighborhoods with more green spaces are generally perceived as safer, lead to more time spent outdoors, and have greater community cohesion. It’s almost as if people like being around greenery.
The specifics of how green spaces help health are complicated, but broadly speaking, they help to reduce air pollution, stress, and humidity, while also encouraging physical activity, and reducing heat island impacts by providing shade.
These benefits were seen proportionally across all racial and ethnic groups, meaning that increasing the level of greenness in a neighborhood can help bring health levels in line across those groups. It’s no secret that lower income communities tend to be less white and less healthy. Improving the greenness of those neighborhoods is not only a health concern but a social justice concern as well.
As with any study, additional research will be required, and the benefits may not be as broad in places other than Florida. Michigan residents, for example, might not help as much during the winter, but careful planning could mitigate that. Seattle is in a temperate zone as well, but there are an enormous number of coniferous trees, which are still pleasant to walk past even in winter, and applying a similar logic to other regions could help.