Scientists observe reduced emotional distress in children living near greenery

Over at PsyPost, Eric W. Dolan reports on the latest study demonstrating the positive emotional impact of living near green spaces for young children from a wide range of locales and backgrounds, regardless of factors including the socioeconomic status of their neighborhoods: 

“Recent research published in the JAMA Network Open reveals a connection between exposure to green spaces and the mental health of young children. Children who lived in areas rich in natural environments, such as forests and parks, from birth showed fewer emotional issues between the ages of 2 and 5. This finding adds a vital piece to the puzzle of childhood development, suggesting that natural surroundings may play a crucial role in fostering mental well-being in early life.

Previous studies have consistently highlighted the importance of nature for mental health across various age groups. However, there is limited research specifically focusing on the influence of natural environments on the mental health of very young children.

The National Institutes of Health’s Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes program funded this study to fill this research gap. Researchers aimed to understand how living in green spaces from birth influences emotional issues such as anxiety and depression during the formative years of a child’s life.

The study analyzed parental reports on their children’s behavior, gathered from a large sample of children aged between 2 to 11 years, to understand the impact of early exposure to green spaces. The researchers linked these behavioral reports with the satellite data that quantified the vegetation density around the children’s residences at birth.

The sample included data from 2,103 children across 199 counties in 41 U.S. states, making the study broad and inclusive of various geographic and socio-economic backgrounds. The researchers used a detailed measure, the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), to quantify the density of live vegetation near the children’s homes. This index helped in accurately assessing the level of green space exposure for each child from birth.

The researchers found that higher NDVI values, indicating denser greenery, were consistently linked with reduced emotional issues in young children. This relationship held true even after accounting for several potentially confounding factors, such as the child’s sex, the educational level of the parents, the child’s age at birth, and the socioeconomic status of the neighborhood.”

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