The Greenest Neighborhoods
May Be the Healthiest
Researchers suggest that a tree canopy could protect residents from a variety of conditions
by Damian McNamara
Illustration by Daria Kirpach
People living on blocks with the highest levels of tree canopy could have lower risks for a variety of diseases and conditions — possibly because of greater physical activity, more social interaction and a number of other benefits — compared with people whose neighborhoods have the lowest levels of “greenness,” according to studies by researchers in the Miller School of Medicine’s Department of Public Health Sciences and the School of Architecture.
In one recent study, people living on blocks deemed with medium greenness were found to be 36% less likely to be diagnosed with depression than residents of blocks with the lowest one-third of greenness; those living amid the highest greenness levels had 52% lower odds.
Another study found that Miami-Dade County residents living in the greenest neighborhoods had a 25% lower risk of a heart attack, a 20% lower likelihood for ischemic heart disease, a 16% lower chance of experiencing heart failure and a 6% lower likelihood of atrial fibrillation than those in the least-green neighborhoods.
The researchers used an innovative approach that combined satellite imagery, U.S. Census nine-digit ZIP code information and data on nearly 250,000 Medicare beneficiaries in the county.
“We were somewhat surprised with the strength of the findings,” said Scott Brown, Ph.D., research associate professor of public health sciences and architecture, and project director of the UM Built Environment, Behavior and Health Research Team at the Department of Public Health Sciences.
Interestingly, the health benefits associated with higher levels of greenness remained even after controlling for age, gender, race, ethnicity and income.
“We know lower median neighborhood income can be a risk factor for increased likelihood of multiple health problems,” Dr. Brown said. “It’s one of the social determinants of health.”
The findings support prior studies by the researchers linking increased greenness to a lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease and greater improvements in obesity-related conditions.