Pregnant women living in "green" neighborhoods are more likely to deliver healthier babies, suggests a new study from researchers at Oregon State University and the University of British Columbia.
What makes a neighborhood green: the presence of trees, leaves, grass, and other greenery. Mothers who live in such greener spaces are more likely to deliver at full-term and have babies born at higher weights compared to mothers who live in urban areas that aren't as green, according to the study recently published in Environmental Health Perspectives.
"This was a surprise," says lead author Petty Hystad, an environmental epidemiologist at the College of Public Health and Human Services at Oregon State. "We expected the association between greenness and birth outcomes to disappear once we accounted for other environmental exposures, such as air pollution and noise. The research really suggests that greenness affects birth outcomes in other ways, such as psychologically or socially." Researchers controlled for factors such as neighborhood income, exposure to air pollution, noise, and neighborhood walkability.
Between 1999 and 2002, researchers tracked more than 64,000 births in Vancouver, British Columbia. They found that when mothers lived in greener neighborhoods, pre-term births were 20 percent lower, and moderate pre-term births were 13 percent lower for infants. The study also found that infants from greener neighborhoods tended to be of a healthier weight: They weighed 45 grams more at birth than infants from less-green neighborhoods.
Why the link to healthier pregnancies and green neighborhoods? More research needs to be done to determine if green space opens the door to more social opportunities and enhances a woman's sense of belonging in the community, or if it has a psychological effect in reducing stress and depression, Hystad says. The study also was not clear on what type of green space is most beneficial to pregnant women, but Hystad says that adding a planter to a patio or a tree to a sidewalk wouldn't make a large difference in birth outcomes.
The study is one of several recently that shows the health benefits of green space, Hystad says.
"We know a lot about the negative influences, such as living closer to major roads, but demonstrating that a design choice can have benefits is really uplifting," says the study's senior author Michael Brauer of the University of British Columbia. "With the high cost of health care, modifying urban design features, such as increasing green space, may turn out to be extremely cost-effective strategies to prevent disease, while at the same time also providing ecological benefits."