GreenHealth was a four-year collaborative study on the contribution of green and open space to public health and wellbeing. OPENspace researched levels of residential green space, stress and mental wellbeing in deprived communities.

Bullet points about the research

What was this research about?

The Scottish Government has five objectives in its mission to create opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish through increasing, sustainable, economic growth. GreenHealth was funded to explore the links between two of these objectives in particular: a healthier Scotland; and a greener Scotland.

Led by the James Hutton Institute, the project ran over a four-year period, 2008-2012, with final reporting in 2013. OPENspace was responsible for two key elements of the research, both looking at levels of residential green space, stress and mental wellbeing in deprived communities.

We carried out a survey of 406 participants from communities in Edinburgh and Dundee. We used two principal, self-reported measures of health – perceived stress and mental wellbeing – and four measures of green space quantity around each participant’s home.

Our separate, cross-sectional study, using diurnal patterns of salivary cortisol as independent biomarkers of stress, was carried out in two parts. We did an initial, exploratory study to test the feasibility of sampling this hormonal stress indicator in deprived communities. Its successful completion enabled us to carry out a second, larger study comprising 106 participants (in total) aged 33-55 (50% men; 50% women, all not in work).

What did we find?

Our survey findings suggest that the amount of green space in the residential environment contributes to health and wellbeing. For example, men likely to spend more time at home report lower stress and higher mental wellbeing if they have higher levels of residential green space, compared with those living in low green space areas.

From our cortisol testing, we found that more green space in the home neighbourhood is associated with lower levels of stress, as shown both by self-reporting and salivary cortisol patterns. For women in particular, it seems that green space may have a positive effect on stress regulation, or ‘coping’.

What academic outputs are linked to this research?

To date, we have published four academic papers on this research (with more in press):

Ward Thompson, C. Roe, J., Aspinall, P., Mitchell, R., Clow, A. & Miller, D. 2012. ‘More green space is linked to less stress in deprived communities: Evidence from salivary cortisol patterns’. Landscape and Urban Planning 105, pp. 221-229, doi:10.1016/j.landurbplan.2011.12.015*

Roe, J.J., Ward Thompson, C., Aspinall, P.A., Brewer, M.J., Duff, E.I., Miller, D., Mitchell, R. & Clow, A. 2013. ‘Green Space and Stress: Evidence from Cortisol Measures in Deprived Urban Communities’. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 10, pp. 4086-4103, doi:10.3390/ijerph10094086

Ward Thompson, C., Aspinall, P. and Roe, J. 2014. ‘Access to Green Space in Disadvantaged Urban Communities: Evidence of salutogenic effects based on biomarker and self-report measures of wellbeing’. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences 153, pp. 10-22. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.10.036

Ward Thompson, C., Aspinall, P., Roe, J., Robertson, L. and Miller, D. 2016. ‘Mitigating stress and supporting health in deprived urban communities: the importance of green space and the social environment’. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 13(4): 440; doi:10.3390/ijerph13040440.

Roe, J., Aspinall, P. and Ward Thompson, C. (in preparation) ‘Opportunities for coping with stress in deprived urban contexts: a latent class analysis of the role of public open space’.

*In June 2014, this paper was selected by the editorial board of Landscape and Urban Planning as one of the top 20 papers published in the journal in the last forty years and included in a virtual special issue of the journal.

OPENspace researchers have presented GreenHealth at numerous academic conferences worldwide including: the 22nd conference of the International Association for People-Environment Studies (IAPS) in Glasgow; the second international Landscape and Health conference in Zürich; the 44th Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) conference in Chicago; the 28th International Congress of Applied Psychology (ICAP) in Paris; the fourth international City of the Future conference in Bielefeld; and the International Center for Scientific Debate B-Debate on Green Cities, Healthy People in Barcelona.

What resources are linked to this research?

The Scottish Government has published a series of Briefing Notes on Environment and Human Health, two of which are about the OPENspace GreenHealth research…

Environment and Human Health 2 – Green space quantity, stress and wellbeing
Open the briefing note as a pdf 

Environment and Human Health 3 – Urban green space and stress
Open the briefing note as a pdf 

You can also read the full GreenHealth research report
Open the report as a pdf

What has the research achieved?

GreenHealth has been the catalyst for improved linkages between between policy makers and stakeholders in public health, place and quality of life, both in Scotland and internationally.

The findings were reported at a national Greenspace Scotland conference in Edinburgh in March 2013 and – having been used by the Scottish Government in a series of Briefing Notes on Environment and Human Health – formed the focus of a Research and Policy Discussion in August 2014 between policymakers and analysts in physical activity, health and wellbeing and architecture and place. The findings have also been cited in Natural England’s second edition of Microeconomic Evidence for the Benefits of Investment in the Environment.

By invitation, Catharine Ward Thompson has spoken about the research at the 7th European Public Health Conference, at a World Health Organization (WHO) European Region Office expert meeting in Germany, and at a meeting of the WHO European Environment and Health Task Force (EHTF) in Macedonia. She is currently co-authoring a report for WHO Europe on Urban green space and health.

The project has attracted widespread media attention, resulting in articles on the BBC, in The Daily Record and Metro, in Scottish Policy Now, Top Santé magazine and the Times of India. It is discussed in the free Routledge webinar, Can landscape design/landscape architecture actually improve health?

Watch the Routledge webinar on YouTube

Who worked on GreenHealth?

OPENspace research team:

Catharine Ward Thompson (Principal Investigator)
Peter Aspinall (Co-Investigator)
Lynette Robertson
Jenny Roe
Affonso Zuin

Other academic partners:

James Hutton Institute (lead partner)
Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland
Centre for Research on Environment, Society and Health (CRESH)
at the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh
University of Westminster

Public, policy and not-for-profit partners:

NHS Health Scotland
Scottish Government
Scottish Environment Protection Agency
Scottish Natural Heritage
greenspace scotland
Forestry Commission Scotland

Who funded this research?

GreenHealth was funded by the Scottish Government Environment and Health Programme, through the Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Division (RESAS).

Where can I find out more?

The James Hutton Institute maintains the project’s official website
Take me to the project website

You can also read the full GreenHealth research report
Open the report as a pdf