Woodland areas 'are good for young people's mental health'

·2-min read

Living near wooded areas is good for the mental health of children and young people, a new study has found.

Scientists have discovered kids who spend time in woodlands have a lower risk of behavioural and emotional problems, as well as better cognitive development.

The research, led by experts at UCL and Imperial College London, analysed data gathered between 2014 and 2018 from 3,568 pupils from 31 schools across London who were aged between nine and 15. This age is believed to be crucial for an individual's reasoning, thinking and understanding of the world.

Scientists looked at the link between different natural urban environments and the mental health, overall wellbeing, and cognitive development of the participants.

The environments were divided into green spaces - woods, meadows and parks - and blue spaces - rivers, lakes and sea. The green space was then divided further into woodland and grassland.

Satellite data was used to calculate how much exposure the children and young people had to these spaces, and how far they were located from their home and school.

The study showed that higher daily exposure to woodland - not including grassland - was linked to a 16 per cent lower risk of behavioural and emotional problems two years later, as well as improved scores for cognitive development.

Exposure to grassland also created a positive effect, including higher scores for cognitive development, but the benefit was smaller than for woodlands.

Experts didn't find a positive relationship between blue space exposure and cognitive development, however, study leaders did highlight that access to these spaces was generally low for those taking part.

"It's critical for us to tease out why natural environments are so important to our mental health throughout the life course - does the benefit derive from the physical exercise we do in these environments, from the social interactions we often have in them, or from the fauna and flora we get to enjoy in these environments or a combination of all of these?" said joint senior author Professor Mireille Toledano, from Imperial College London.

One in ten London schoolchildren between the age of five and 16 are believed to suffer from a clinical mental health illness.

Scientists hope these findings could help to influence future planning decisions in urban areas.

The study was published in the journal Nature Sustainability.

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