Jean-Benoit Legault, The Canadian Press
MONTREAL — Urban areas with more green spaces are associated with better health behaviors on the part of children, says a new European study.
The same is true for urban areas that have a higher density of buildings and facilities, a lower population density, and where there are no major thoroughfares.
Children who live in such an environment are more likely to be physically active, spend less time in sedentary activities, sleep longer and walk or bike to school, the researchers found. Barcelona Institute for Global Health, which is supported by the “la Caixa” foundation.
“We have known for a long time that favorable environments are good for health, whether with green spaces or safe spaces where children can play, move around, where they can be children,” commented Dr. Claudel Pétrin-Desrosiers, who chairs the Quebec Association of Physicians for the Environment.
“But there, having studied it in European cohorts in different countries over several years… I think that adds additional weight to the argument that the urban environment is perhaps even more important than we thought for the toddler health.
Such studies, she continues, should encourage “political decision-makers to pay a little more attention to the development of living environments to give everyone, including those in the most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, the chance to grow up in health”.
The authors of the study looked at 1,581 children aged 6 to 11 from six European cohorts. They then assessed their exposure to 32 environmental characteristics, close to home or near school, such as the density of traffic on the nearest road or the proximity of green or blue spaces.
Researchers found that the use of active transportation increased, and time spent in sedentary activities decreased, where children were exposed to more green spaces. In addition, the proximity of a major artery cut almost five minutes per night, on average, from children’s sleep time.
Nearly two-thirds of the children in this study were not getting at least 60 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity per day, as recommended by the World Health Organization. Nearly 60% of them spent at least two hours a day on a screen.
“Favorable urban planning makes it possible to respond to several pressing health issues that affect children, in particular the fact that many are sedentary, that we often move little at the moment, underlined Dr. Pétrin-Desrosiers. But having favorable environments allows us to have children who are more active. It is good for health in the short, medium and long term.
The main determinant of an individual’s health, she adds, is not access to a family doctor or the health care system, but rather the environment in which it exists and who is responsible for it. about 70% of his health.
Such studies demonstrate that, for a population of children, it is possible to act very concretely in the development of our living environments and our communities, outside of what can be done in the network. of health, to contribute to good health and to put in place healthy pillars, she said.
We must also stop thinking that a “contact with nature” is necessarily a three-day hike in the Rockies. When children are offered access to community sports, when protected bike paths or wide enough sidewalks are set up, when attractive parks are offered, the impact is not long in being felt, said Dr. Pétrin-Desrosiers.
“We saw it with the green alleys, she concluded. Parents feel much safer sending their child outside to play because the risk of an accident with an automobile is greatly reduced. People will make the right decisions if they are given the opportunity to do so, and that includes having access in their community, in their neighborhood, to quality green spaces.”
The cohorts of children studied came from the UK, France, Spain, Lithuania, Norway and Greece.
The findings of this study were published by the scientific journal Environment International.