Newly connected datasets track how exposure to green space impacts health

A new data cohort, funded by the NIHR Public Health Research programme, can for the first time link national green/blue space data with electronic health records for over a decade.

This cohort, developed by the University of Liverpool in collaboration with Swansea, Exeter and Cardiff Universities, and Natural Resources Wales, gathers anonymised information from national datasets covering 2.8 million adults living in Wales across a 12 year period.

The researchers will go on to use more advanced analysis on the cohort  to illustrate a detailed account of the impact of green and blue spaces on an individual’s mental health and well-being. The findings can then better inform green and blue space policy for ongoing management and design of new spaces. In this way the design of green spaces can fully account for their residents’ needs and not be only a reflection of broad natural policy or economic considerations.

A huge leap forward

Sarah Rodgers, Professor of Health Informatics at the University of Liverpool, said: “The breadth of this data should be the minimum level of information we evaluate before we begin to design our urban green and blue spaces with their residents in mind. Only in this way can we work with policy and practice rather than retrospectively evaluating the success of a project.”

Richard Mitchell, Professor of Health and Environment at the University of Glasgow, said:  “This is a huge leap forward for research into how green spaces affect people’s health. This new resource will fill gaps in our knowledge and, in particular, having the ability to relate change in green space around people’s home to their health and behaviour, is brilliant. It’s a great example of what can be achieved using health service data in a clever but secure and protected way.”

Informing policy and practice

Dr Ben Wheeler, Associate Professor of Environment, Health and Inequalities at the University of Exeter, said: “This dataset is a hugely valuable resource, allowing us to work with partners to develop robust evidence on the connections between mental health and green/blue space. This evidence can help to inform policy and practice to find opportunities for improving both health and the environment.”

Overall, the extensive connection of health and environment data at an individual level can only be beneficial for areas across the UK working towards a greener, healthier future.