Using birth cohorts to understand the impact of urban green space on child health and wellbeing
This interdisciplinary project will investigate the impact of the environments in which children grow up on their health and wellbeing. It will use systematic review, geographical and epidemiological methods, and two UK birth cohorts to investigate the role of urban green space in shaping child and adolescent physical and mental health.
The PhD would be supervised by Dr Ben Wheeler at ECEHH, Dr Alison Teyhan at the University of Bristol, Dr Rosemary McEachan of Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and Professor John Macleod of the University of Bristol.
A growing evidence base indicates that urban greenspace is beneficial for population health outcomes including cardiovascular disease, anxiety/depression, and diabetes (Hartig 2014; WHO 2016). Health benefits are theorised to arise via mechanisms including physical activity, stress recovery and mitigation of risks (e.g. noise, air pollution). Some research indicates that benefits can start accruing in childhood; we have shown links between greenspace and children’s physical activity in Bristol (Wheeler 2010). However, there is a recognised need for more robust study of childhood health impacts.
This PhD will involve longitudinal investigation of urban greenspace and health outcomes amongst children growing up in the ALSPAC and Born in Bradford birth cohorts. The exact research questions and hypotheses to be investigated will be developed by the student with the supervisory team, but the PhD will develop through four stages:
- Systematic review of urban greenspace and child health and wellbeing, including consideration of moderation by SES, ethnicity etc. This will situate the research in the existing evidence, taking a critical and unbiased approach. The review protocol will be registered with PROSPERO. The student will gain excellent training at Exeter (support from the PenCLAHRC Evidence Synthesis Team) and Bristol (e.g. Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis 4-day course).
- Cohort data linkage: The student will develop skills in secondary data linkage, a key aspect of contemporary population health research. They will develop a set of geographical physical and social environmental indicators and link longitudinally to cohort participants. They will also explore linkages based on e.g. school location, to consider the wider living environment.
- Cohort analysis: The student will develop analyses to robustly investigate relationships between environmental indicators and health outcomes within the cohorts. This will require significant training in advanced epidemiological methods, provided within the host institutions, and externally where necessary.
- Implications: The student will be supported to work with stakeholders to consider how research findings can inform strategies to promote child health through urban environments. They will capitalise on supervisors’ extensive networks of research users, including local authorities, Public Health England and WHO. They will discuss their research widely, e.g. through ECEHH’s widely read Beyond Greenspace blog.
The PhD will:
- Be highly interdisciplinary (epidemiology, geography, environmental science)
- Provide training in advanced methods in quantitative health and social sciences, evidence synthesis, and internationally significant birth cohorts
- Be embedded in world-leading research groups
- Give opportunities for knowledge exchange with stakeholders including local authorities, Public Health England and WHO
How to apply: Go to the GW4 pages for details
The studentship is funded by the GW4 BioMed MRC Doctoral Training Partnership. Full details on the studentship and eligibility criteria are available at the GW4 BioMed MRC DTP website.
Hartig et al 2014. Nature and health. Ann Rev Public Health 35.
Wheeler et al 2010. Greenspace and children’s physical activity: a GPS/GIS analysis of the PEACH project. Prev Med 51.
WHO 2016. Urban green spaces and health. WHO, Copenhagen.