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Completed project

Greener cities, healthier lives: measuring the wider societal benefits (GC15005)

Key research provider: University of Wollongong
Publication date: Thursday, November 3, 2022

What was it all about?

This investment, which ran from 2016 to 2021, provided the first systemic evidence on the health benefits of green space on people, from birth to older age.

The findings provide industry and policy makers with evidence-based research on the minimum threshold of local green space necessary for favourable health and societal outcomes through an investigation into five themes that each focus on a different stage of life:

  1. Pregnancy and perinatal health
  2. Mental health and chronic disease risk
  3. Health service use and healthcare costs
  4. Child health and educational attainment
  5. Green space preferences and outdoor recreation among older people.

Key findings to date include:

  • Restoring tree canopy cover from less than 10 per cent to at least 30 per cent is associated with reduced risks (or odds) of developing dementia, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, psychological distress, insufficient sleep, and poor health in general among Australian adults living in cities.

  • Adults in neighbourhoods where at least 30 per cent of nearby land was parks, reserves, or woodlands, had 26 per cent lower odds of becoming lonely compared to their peers in areas with less than 10 per cent green space. For people living on their own, the associations were even stronger, with areas that have 30 pe rcent or more green space nearby halving the odds of adults developing loneliness.

  • People who were able to work from home regularly during COVID-19 lockdowns accrued greater benefits from contact with green spaces, especially in terms of respite and exercise.

  • Rather than being disadvantaged by the experience of ‘lockdown’ with respect to visiting natural settings, residents of Melbourne tended to visit green spaces more frequently and reap greater benefits from those visits in Oct 2020, compared with people in Sydney who weren’t in lockdown.

  • Higher levels of green space are associated with healthier birthweight.

  • Higher quality green space is associated with better health, fewer depressive symptoms, and more prosocial behaviour in children as they grow up.

  • More green space is associated with better child health in general, regardless of whether the children are growing up in affluent or disadvantaged suburbs.

  • Higher quality green space is associated with lower odds of post-partum psychological distress in young mothers, whereas more green space overall is associated with healthier body mass index.

  • Socioeconomically disadvantaged communities tend to have less green space overall, less tree canopy, and where there is green space, it tends to be perceived as lower in quality.