Benefit of woodland and other natural environments for adolescents’ cognition and mental health


Epidemiological studies have established positive associations of urban nature with cognitive development and mental health. However, why specifically these health benefits are received remains unclear, especially in adolescents. We used longitudinal data in a cohort of 3,568 adolescents aged 9 to 15 years at 31 schools across London, UK, to examine the associations between natural-environment types and adolescents’ cognitive development, mental health and overall well-being. We characterized natural-environment types in three tiers, where natural space was distinguished into green and blue space, and green space was further distinguished into woodland and grassland. We showed that, after adjusting for other confounding variables, higher daily exposure to woodland, but not grassland, was associated with higher scores for cognitive development and a lower risk of emotional and behavioural problems for adolescents. A similar but smaller effect was seen for green space, but not blue space, with higher scores for cognitive development. Our results suggest that urban planning decisions to optimize ecosystem benefits linked to cognitive development and mental health should carefully consider the type of natural environment included.

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