New NIHR funded project: green and blue spaces and mental health outcomes

Ben, Mat and Becca are collaborating on a newly funded National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Public Health Research project which will investigate whether spending time in green and blue spaces can have a positive effect on long-term wellbeing and mental health.

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The collaboration is led by Dr Sarah Rodgers, Associate Professor at Swansea University Medical School, and involves the University of Exeter, Cardiff University and the Barcelona Institute for Global Health. We will work with partners from Natural Resources Wales, Keep Wales Tidy, Sports Wales, City and County of Swansea, and Welsh Government.

Our study will investigate how changes in the availability, abundance and accessibility of green and blue spaces has influenced mental health outcomes over time. We will also consider how different types of green and blue spaces relate to mental health and wellbeing benefits for different people.

Using a large-scale, population based, natural experimental approach, we hope to address shortcomings in the existing evidence base by adding detail on the quality, type, size, location, function and uses of green and blue spaces. Routinely collected health and environment data will be linked in the databank based at Swansea University. The Secure Anonymised Information Linkage databank (SAIL) is an immensely powerful world-class system that brings data together in a secure, trusted and confidential way.

We will examine associations between residential green and blue spaces exposure and mental health for 1.7 million adults in Wales. To do this we will create a longitudinal quarterly residential green and blue spaces exposure dataset for each home in Wales using local authority datasets adjusting for changes in greenness between 2008 and 2018 using remotely sensed data. We will use Ordnance Survey data to extract ‘blue’ features, including canals, ponds, rivers, and beaches, and road and footpath network data will be used to calculate distances from each home to residential green and blue spaces access points within a 10 minute walk. This data will be linked with routinely collected health data held in the anonymised databank.

We will also use a hybrid longitudinal, cross-sectional design which will incorporate outdoor recreation survey results for 24,000 people to explore the potentially mediating effect of green and blue spaces visit frequency on any direct relationship between residential green and blue spaces and our data-linked primary health and wellbeing outcomes. Analysis of green and blue spaces visits will consider activity type and other relevent social factors.

The results of the project will inform public health, planning and regeneration decisions relating to the protection and development of green and blue spaces for health improvement.

The project is funded through the  National Institute of Health Research’s (NIHR) Public Health Research outdoor green and blue spaces call. The PHR Programme funds research which aims to generate evidence to inform the delivery of non-NHS interventions intended to improve the health of the public and reduce inequalities in health.

More details on the project, which starts in January 2018, can be found on the NIHR PHR project page.

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