Effect of exposure to natural environment on health inequalities: an observational population study

Richard Mitchell, Frank Popham

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    1414 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Background Studies have shown that exposure to the natural environment, or so-called green space, has an independent effect on health and health-related behaviours. We postulated that income-related inequality in health would be less pronounced in populations with greater exposure to green space, since access to such areas can modify pathways through which low socioeconomic position can lead to disease.

    Methods We classified the population of England at younger than retirement age (n=40 813 236) into groups on the basis of income deprivation and exposure to green space. We obtained individual mortality records (n=366348) to establish whether the association between income deprivation, all-cause mortality, and cause-specific mortality (circulatory disease, lung cancer, and intentional self-harm) in 2001-05, varied by exposure to green space measured in 2001, with control for potential confounding factors. We used stratified models to identify the nature of this variation.

    Findings The association between income deprivation and mortality differed significantly across the groups of exposure to green space for mortality from all causes (p<0.0001) and circulatory disease (p=0.0212), but not from lung cancer or intentional self-harm. Health inequalities related to income deprivation in all-cause mortality and mortality from circulatory diseases were lower in populations living in the greenest areas. The incidence rate ratio (IRR) for all-cause mortality for the most income deprived quartile compared with the least deprived was 1.93 (95% CI 1.86-2.01) in the least green areas, whereas it was 1.43 (1.34-1.53) in the most green. For circulatory diseases, the IRR was 2.19 (2.04-2.34) in the least green areas and 1.54 (1.38-1.73) in the most green. There was no effect for causes of death unlikely to be affected by green space, such as lung cancer and intentional self-harm.

    Interpretation Populations that are exposed to the greenest environments also have lowest levels of health inequality related to income deprivation. Physical environments that promote good health might be important to reduce socioeconomic health inequalities.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1655-1660
    Number of pages6
    JournalLancet
    Volume372
    Issue number9650
    Publication statusPublished - 8 Nov 2008

    Keywords

    • PHYSICAL-ACTIVITY
    • SOCIOECONOMIC INEQUALITIES
    • AIR-POLLUTION
    • GREEN SPACE
    • MORTALITY
    • STRESS
    • DETERMINANTS
    • RESTORATION
    • COUNTRIES
    • URBANITY

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