Unlocking the benefits of greenspace

Unlocking the benefits of greenspace

Air pollution puts children at increased risk for neurodevelopmental issues. UBC researchers reveal the protective effects of urban greenspaces.

Air pollution’s impact on childhood development is an emerging area of concern for researchers and policymakers. Recent studies suggest that exposure to airborne pollutants puts children at greater risk of developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other neurodevelopmental issues.

UBC’s Dr. Matilda van den Bosch believes more greenspaces could be the solution.

“Parks, playgrounds, and urban forests aren’t just beautiful and fun. Our research shows that they can have a protective effect,” says Dr. van den Bosch, an adjunct professor in the School of Population and Public Health and the Faculty of Forestry.

She and her team investigated the relationship between greenspace, pollution and ADHD risk among a cohort of children in Metro Vancouver. They found that ADHD risk nearly doubled among children who lived in areas with low levels of greenspace and high levels of air pollution, whereas an abundance of greenspace reduced the risk. In a separate study, the team found that autism risk also increases where natural spaces are sparse.

Dr. Matilda van den Bosch
Dr. Matilda van den Bosch

“When children are exposed to greenspaces early in life, they enjoy greater cognitive health, partly because these spaces may reduce air pollution, which can impair brain development,” says Dr. van den Bosch.

Both studies have important implications for urban planning and health policy.

Because lower-income neighbourhoods typically have fewer greenspaces, children living in those communities could be more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution.

Rising global temperatures have the potential to make the problem worse. Built-up urban areas trap heat more readily than natural spaces, and heat intensifies the harmful effects of pollution. This, in turn, could further exacerbate health inequality in urban areas.

“We should move quickly towards building healthier, more equitable cities as the climate changes,” says Dr. van den Bosch.

“And more greenspaces should be a top priority for everyone, beginning with the most vulnerable communities.”

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