“What we found is that the childhood experience of green space can actually predict mental health in later life. The people that reported more exposure to nature actually have better mental health than those that don’t even after we adjust for exposure at the time of the interview, when they are adults.” – Mark Nieuwenhuijsen
According to research published in the International Journal of Environmental Health and Public Health using data collected from 3585 people across four European cities, scientists report a strong relationship between growing up away from the natural world and mental health issues in adulthood. Getpocket.com reports overall, they found a strong correlation between low exposure to nature during childhood and higher levels of nervousness and feelings of depression in adulthood.
“This is just kind of a hypothesis. I think the reason for it is, in general, our brains are still wired for when we were still living in the savannahs and jungles with a lot of nature around us. It’s only the last few hundred years that we have moved into cities. Our brains are not really adjusted to that. It creates a kind of stress, and in particular, there’s a lot of brain development happening at young ages.” – Mark Nieuwenhuijsen
So what do researchers suggest for those living in urban centers where access to nature isn’t readily available…comprehensive reevaluation of the way we design the places where we spend most of our days:
“We hope that city mayors, urban planners, and architects realize how important urban nature is and that they will ensure that nature is accessible for all children so that they can grow up in a healthy environment that can have long-term benefits for their health.”
Abstract: Exposure to natural outdoor environments (NOE) is associated with health benefits; however, evidence on the impact of NOE exposure during childhood on mental health (MH) and vitality in adulthood is scarce. This study was based on questionnaire data collected from 3585 participants, aged 18–75, in the PHENOTYPE project (2013) in four European cities. Mixed models were used to investigate associations between childhood NOE exposure and (i) MH; (ii) vitality (perceived level of energy and fatigue); and (iii) potential mediation by perceived amount, use, satisfaction, importance of NOE, and residential surrounding greenness, using pooled and city-level data. Adults with low levels of childhood NOE exposure had, when compared to adults with high levels of childhood NOE exposure, significantly worse mental health (coef. −4.13; 95% CI −5.52, −2.74). Childhood NOE exposure was not associated with vitality. Low levels of childhood NOE exposure were associated with lower importance of NOE (OR 0.81; 95% CI 0.66, 0.98) in adulthood. The association with perceived amount of NOE differed between cities. We found no evidence for mediation. Childhood NOE exposure might be associated with mental well-being in adulthood. Further studies are needed to confirm these findings and to identify mechanisms underlying long-term benefits of childhood NOE exposure.
Research Professor, Director of the Urban Planning, Environment and Health Initiative, and head of the Air Pollution and Urban Environment program