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Growing Innovation: Issue 16, October 5, 2016

Exploring new health and green-space links

Can living among green-space bring better pregnancy health outcomes? Can a child’s academic scores be linked to the amount of vegetation around them? Are adults in greener areas more inclined to be mentally healthy, physically active and visit doctors less? 

These questions and more will be answered through a $3.2 million research project developed through the Horticulture Innovation Australia (Hort Innovation) Green Cities fund, in partnership with the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) Population, Wellbeing and Environment Research Lab.

The five-year research project entitled ‘Greener Cities Healthier Lives’ will be led by UOW’s Associate Professor Thomas Astell-Burt and Dr Xiaoqi Feng, two of Australia’s leading green space and public health researchers.

Associate Professor Astell-Burt said the project will explore the effects of green space on individuals across the entire human life span for the first time.

“There are so many unknowns in the relatively new area of green-space and health research, especially in Australia,” he said.

“This project will address the key overarching research question now for industry and policy makers – what is the minimum threshold of local green-space that is necessary to elicit favourable health and societal outcomes?

“We aim to determine what this optimal level of green-space is that every neighbourhood needs in order to promote healthier communities.”

The research will cover five key themes: pregnancy and perinatal health; mental health and chronic disease risk; health service use and healthcare costs; child health and educational attainment; and green space preferences and outdoor recreation among older people.

The UOW team will draw on existing and bespoke data as part of the research project, including the study of NAPLAN results to provide the first insights in Australia on green-space and educational attainment, longitudinal studies of mental health and chronic disease in relation to green-space and hospital admissions and health service costs associated with local green-spaces.

This research is among the first round of projects to be funded through the Hort Innovation Green Cities strategic co-investment fund – an initiative that aims to invest in strategic longer-term research that drives a measurable increase in urban green-space.

“This exciting project will not only inform the recommendations the nursery and landscape industries make to their clients, it will also enhance awareness of new understandings of green-space and health,” Hort Innovation Chief Executive John Lloyd said.

The research and investigator team spans four faculties at UOW (Social Sciences; Science Medicine and Health; Engineering and Information Sciences; Business). It also includes investigators from the Early Start Research Institute, the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute and the South Western Sydney Local Health District, ensuring excellent clinical expertise and strong connections to national decision-makers in the health and education sectors. 

This project is being delivered in line with the 202020Vision – a collaborative initiative that is working to make Australia’s urban areas 20 per cent greener.

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