Research finds neighborhood green space linked to lower health care costs

Newswise – A Clemson University faculty member collaborating with researchers from the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Research Division, found that nature’s benefits can include savings in healthcare costs.

The research, published March 17, 2022 in Environment International, suggests health care systems could spend hundreds of dollars less per person per year on medical care for people living in neighborhoods with the most green space. than they do for those who live near fewer trees, shrubs and grasses.

Matthew HEM Browning, assistant professor in the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management at Clemson University and director of the Clemson Virtual Reality and Nature Lab, served as co-author and principal investigator of the study.

“Our study adds to the growing literature that has shown that living in greener areas is linked to beneficial short- and long-term health outcomes,” Browning said. “The mechanisms linking nature and health are very diverse, but the benefits are thought to be partly because being in a green space can reduce stress, promote healthy behaviors and improve air quality. .”

The researchers used satellite data from the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) to determine the amount of green space within 250, 500 and 1,000 meters (820, 1,640 and 3,280 ft) of the home address of more than 5 million people who were Kaiser Permanente Northern California members for at least 2 years between 2003 and 2015. Then they used data from the Fire and Resource Assessment Program, a measure tree canopy used for fire risk management, as a second measure of green space.

Then they determined the individual care costs for each patient. The costs they used in their analysis reflected the amount spent by Kaiser Permanente, an integrated healthcare delivery system, to care for each patient, not the amount spent by each individual. In their analyses, the researchers took into account age, gender, race/ethnicity, air quality and many neighborhood characteristics such as income, level of education, density of housing and population density.

According to Stephen K. Van Den Eeden, lead author of the study and a researcher at the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research, the study found that, on average, people who lived near more green spaces were more likely to be older. , male, white, and have higher levels of income and education. But even after taking that into account, research showed that the average annual health care cost was $374 lower per person per year for those who lived near the greenest space than for those who lived near it. of the least green space.

“Our study showed that across neighborhoods there was a consistent trend between living in areas with more green space and lower health care costs,” Van Den Eeden said. “We think the results suggest that medical care spending could be hundreds of dollars more each year for people living in neighborhoods with less green space.”

Browning said the findings support ongoing public policy efforts to add more green space to residential areas and investments in urban greening for preventative health as well as all the other collateral benefits that green space has to offer. Van Den Eeden said that while the study could only show association and not causation, it was important to note that they took into account known factors that could influence the results.

“We put everything into the model that could explain the results — demographic variables, socioeconomic variables, population density — and none of that makes the association go away,” Van Den Eeden said. “We’re about as confident in our results as you can be for this type of study.”

The study was funded by the USDA Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forest Grants Program, as recommended by the National Advisory Council on Urban and Community Forestry. The next step in this project is a social media and policy campaign on the economic benefits of trees and urban forests, as well as a second story that Browning will lead on the impact of moving to a greener (or less green) on health care costs within the Kaiser Permanente system in Northern California.

Co-authors include Jun Shan, PhD, Stacey E. Alexeeff, PhD, G. Thomas Ray, MBA, and Charles P. Quesenberry, PhD, at the Research Division and Douglas Becker, PhD, and Ming Kuo, PhD, at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

The Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management is part of the University’s College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences (CBSHS). Established in July 2016, CBSHS is a 21st century land-grant college that combines work in seven disciplines – Communication; Feeding with milk; parks, recreation and tourism management; Political science; Psychology; public health sciences; Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice – to further its mission of “building people and communities” in South Carolina and beyond.

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