Research focus

Research focus: green spaces

People are becoming increasingly aware of the positive impact that access to open spaces and gardens can have on health. This digest summarises three recent articles exploring this link.

People are becoming increasingly aware of the positive impact that access to open spaces and gardens can have on health. This digest summarises three recent articles exploring this link.

Suggestions that having access to open spaces has a positive impact on health. Picture: iStock

Cross-sectional associations between high-deprivation home and neighbourhood environments, and health-related variables among Liverpool children

The differences in health-related, home and neighbourhood environmental variables between Liverpool children living in areas of high deprivation (HD) and medium-to-high deprivation (MD) were investigated in this study, which also assessed associations between these perceived home and neighbourhood environments and health-related variables according to deprivation group.

Data were collected from 194 children age 9-10 from ten schools in Liverpool. These included anthropometric measures (such as height and weight), physical activity levels, cardiorespiratory fitness, access to sedentary devices (bedroom TV sets, games consoles), sedentary behaviour restrictions by parents, and measures of independent mobility (freedom to play outdoors) and neighbourhood walkability.

HD children were found to have significantly higher BMI and waist circumference, and lower cardiorespiratory fitness than MD children. They also had significantly higher bedroom media availability and independent mobility scores. 

MD children were more likely to have garden access as well as indicators of neighbourhood walkability. Further statistical analysis demonstrated a significant inverse association between neighbourhood aesthetics and HD children’s anthropometric measures. HD children’s physical activity scores were negatively associated with bedroom media, and MD children’s physical activity was positively associated with independent mobility. MD children’s independent mobility was inversely associated with crime safety and neighbourhood aesthetics.

The authors conclude that children living in deprivation should be targeted for interventions to increase physical activity. However, further research is needed to inform future interventions to improve the home and neighbourhood environments.

Noonan RJ, Boddy LM, Knowles ZR et al (2016) BMJ Open; 6:e008693. 10.1136/bmjopen-2015-008693


School gardens and adolescent nutrition and BMI: Results from a national, multilevel study

This study aimed to determine the impact of school gardens on eating behaviours, physical activity and BMI in New Zealand secondary schools and examine whether school gardens could cushion the association between household poverty and adolescent BMI.

91 schools participated in the study, including a random sample of 8,500 students age 9-13. Self-reported demographic, health and well-being data were gathered using a multi-media questionnaire. School administrators completed a separate survey about the school environment, and height and weight measures were taken by research staff. 

Half of participating schools had a fruit or vegetable garden. The study found that access to school gardens was associated with lower BMI and less frequent fast food consumption; particularly for students experiencing household poverty. However, no association was found with fruit and vegetable consumption or physical activity. 

The authors recommend further research is conducted to determine how gardens are integrated into the school curriculum and wider community and to explore what interventions may be effective in increasing fruit and vegetable consumption and physical activity in younger people.

Utter J, Denny S, Dyson B (2016) Preventative medicine. 83, 1, 1-4. 10.1016/j.ypmed.2015.11.022 0091-7435

Clinical use of sensory gardens and outdoor environments in Norwegian nursing homes: a cross-sectional e-mail survey.

The use of Sensory Gardens (SGs) and other outdoor environments in Norwegian nursing homes, as reported by managers and staff, were assessed in this study.

A total of 121 managers and 302 staff participated, completing a web-based questionnaire, containing open and closed questions in two stages. The first looked at general use of outdoor environments and the second was directed at only managers in homes with SGs. Responses were collated for managers and staff separately. Staff included nurses and care workers.

Sixty-two percent of homes had a SG. The most common activities were passive – walking or experiencing sensory stimulation such as looking, listening or smelling – followed by using the SG for socialising or shared meals.

The SGs were most commonly used by patients with dementia, followed by residents walking alone. Both managers and staff felt the use of SGs increased resident contentment, mobility and sleep and reduced agitation, restlessness and pacing. They were also seen to positively influence visitors’ interactions with residents.

The authors recommend the development of educational programmes to improve the knowledge and clinical use of SGs in nursing homes as well as supporting the development of individualised therapeutic programmes for residents.

Gonzalez MT, Kirkevold M (2015) Issues in Mental Health Nursing. 36, 35-43. 10.3109/01612840.2014.932872


Compiled by Kat Millward, lecturer at City, University of London 

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