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The neighborhood you live in can be almost as important for your health as the food you eat. And if you want to have healthier kids, research shows your environment plays a big part in their wellness, too.
A study at the of Oregon State University demonstrates that when pregnant mothers live in a locality that has a great deal of green space with trees, grass and vegetation, they are much more likely to deliver their babies at full term. Plus, their babies gave a better chance of achieving a healthy weight compared to newborns born in cities without much greenery.
“This was a surprise,” says researcher Perry Hystad, an environmental epidemiologist in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State. “We expected the association between greenness and birth outcomes to disappear once we accounted for other environmental exposures such as air pollution and noise. The research really suggests that greenness affects birth outcomes in other ways, such as psychologically or socially.”
The scientists are not certain exactly why green spaces and better birth outcomes are linked but they believe the answer could be related to psychological benefits like stress reduction and reduced chances of depression.
An analysis of the results of about 64,000 births showed that giving birth very prematurely was 20 percent less in green neighborhoods. The odds of a moderate pre-term birth shrank by 13 percent compared to births in locales that were mostly concrete and asphalt.
The researchers also discovered that fewer of the newborns in green neighborhoods were ranked as small for their gestational age at birth. The green neighborhood babies weighed, on average, 45 grams more when born than the infants born in a city.
“Planting one tree likely won’t help,” Hystad says. “You don’t really see the beneficial effects of green space until you reach a certain threshold of greenness in a neighborhood.”