Parks and green spaces make healthier lives Thursday, 5 February 2015

Press Release: University of Canterbury

New Zealanders who live close to parks or green spaces are less likely to be overweight or suffer from obesity, a University of Canterbury research project has found.

The researchers say there is potential benefit in featuring green spaces in health promotions in both urban and deprived areas of New Zealand.

 The prevalence of adult obesity in New Zealand is high (28 percent in 2011/12) and rising, leading to escalating health care costs, especially for associated conditions such as Type II diabetes. About 11 percent of New Zealand children up to the age of 14 are considered obese. Another 20 percent are overweight and at risk of obesity.

 The University of Canterbury geography research, headed by Professor Simon Kingham, explored private and public green spaces and people undertaking physical activity. It analysed the activities of 12,500 New Zealanders, including 2500 Aucklanders, and found green spaces influenced their physical and mental health.

 "Park creation and planting in existing public spaces may serve as low-cost disease prevention options. Our results also indicate the potential benefit of targeted health promotion in both urban and deprived areas in New Zealand.

 "We found associations between neighbourhood environmental characteristics, obesity and related behaviours among adult New Zealanders. There is a growing recognition of the potential role of environmental factors in reducing obesity and promoting physical activity and healthy diets.

 "We found that increased neighbourhood deprivation and decreased access to neighbourhood green spaces were both significantly associated with increased odds of being overweight and / or obese. Increased access to green space was associated with high levels of walking, while decreased access to green space was associated with low levels of walking.

 "There was also a significant trend for low levels of walking to be positively associated with neighbourhood deprivation. Results for adequate fruit and vegetable consumption show rural people meeting recommended levels more than those in cities.

 "Geographic access to supermarkets was better in deprived neighbourhoods than affluent neighbourhoods, but access was not associated with individuals' vegetable intake.

"This is probably the first study in New Zealand to evaluate the potential role of environmental characteristics in influencing obesity of becoming overweight, adding to evidence from the United States, Australia, Canada and Europe.

 "The fear of neighbourhood crime has also exhibited a negative impact on mental and physical wellbeing in New Zealand and has been shown to reduce residents' walking within the local neighbourhood in Australia and the United Kingdom."

 Professor Kingham heads the University of Canterbury's spatial GeoHealth Laboratory, which researches in areas such as health geography, spatial epidemiology and geographic information systems.

 The laboratory has examined issues such as household crowding and infectious disease; monitoring people's health in cities; mental health outcomes following the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes; and travel, transport and travel and health outcomes.

ENDS