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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Understanding the human health benefits of urban green space across the life course by integrating epidemiological and novel geospatial approaches Jarvis, Ingrid


Growing research indicates that natural environments – including green and blue spaces – are beneficial for human health. However, evidence gaps remain concerning the health associations with different types of natural environments and forms of human-nature contact, pathways underlying nature-health associations, and health associations across different life stages. To address these gaps, this dissertation examined the relationship between natural environments and human health among residents of Metro Vancouver, Canada. First, a method for estimating and comparing different forms of human-nature contact was developed, specifically access (i.e., living within proximity of a public green space) and exposure (i.e., quantity of natural and non-natural features surrounding residence). Next, these exposure metrics were used to analyze the association between access and exposure to natural environments and self-reported general health, mental health, and common mental disorders among respondents of the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS). The exposure metrics were likewise utilized in analyses investigating the association between exposure to natural environments and early childhood development, as measured by teacher-ratings on the Early Development Instrument (EDI). Finally, underlying pathways of nature-health associations were analyzed by evaluating potential mediation by reductions in traffic-related air pollution and noise. In general, natural environments were positively associated with human health. Nature-health associations varied according to land cover type. Specifically, water and some vegetation types were associated with lower odds of poor self-reported health among respondents of the CCHS, while exposure to tree and grass cover was positively associated with children’s EDI scores. Conversely, exposure to paved surfaces was adversely associated with self-reported health and children’s early development. Furthermore, nature-health associations varied according to form of nature contact, with more consistent associations observed for exposure than access. Finally, positive associations between green space exposure and early childhood development were partially explained by reductions in traffic-related air pollution and noise levels. This dissertation provides new empirical evidence of the benefits of natural environments on human health. Results support urban planning and policy frameworks that increase the availability of natural environments to contribute to optimal population health across the life course.

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