Study: green spaces near schools boost mental development

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Researchers have found a link between mental development in primary school aged children and exposure to green spaces at schools. The study suggests that children in urban areas could benefit from expanding park and school fields.

The study, from the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology, notes that contact with nature is thought to play a crucial and irreplaceable role in brain development but evidence is scarce.

The research monitored changes in cogitative measures every three months between January 2010 and March 2013 among nearly 2,600 children aged between seven and ten years of age in Barcelona Spain. It aimed to test the association between cognitive maturation and exposure to green spaces at home and school and during communtes.

Payam Dadvand, who led the study, commented, “We also found that traffic related air pollution accounts for 20-65% of the estimated links between school greenness and cognitive development. A part of the observed influence of green space on cognitive development could be mediated by the ability of green spaces in reducing air pollution, which itself has been negatively linked to cognitive development.”

Despite the link found between mental development and green spaces near schools, no such link was observed between green spaces and homes. Given the increasing number of people living in urban areas, the research suggests that expanding green spaces at school could “result in an advantage in mental capital at population level”, explains Jordi Sunyer, who coordinated the study.

Separate reports have also noted the importance of green space for communities, one from the Policy Exchange argued that local parks and similar urban environments are central to successful cities. Other studies have suggested that green spaces in cities positively affect mental health and wellbeing.

Photo: Garry Knight via Flickr

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Further reading:

Report: green spaces ‘central’ to successful cities

Green spaces in cities positively affect mental health

Decline of UK’s natural environment ‘costly’ to economy and wellbeing

Green spaces in cities could restore species lost to urbanisation