Tree-filled spaces can help improve child development, study finds

Photo (c) Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy - Getty Images

Experts say spaces with more trees are better than grassy or paved areas

A new study conducted by researchers from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health explored how different environments may impact how kids grow. 

According to their findings, living close to spaces with trees may be better than grassy or paved areas for children’s long-term development. 

“Our findings indicate that increased early-life residential exposure to vegetation is positively associated with early childhood developmental outcomes, and that associations may be stronger for residential exposure to tree cover relative to grass cover,” the researchers wrote. “Our results further indicate that childhood development may be negatively associated with residential exposure to paved surfaces.”  

Environment impacts development

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from over 27,500 children who were part of a large birth cohort study in the Vancouver area between 2000 and 2005. The study tracked the children’s development from the time they were born through kindergarten.

By the time they were five, the participants' kindergarten teachers reported on their communication skills, emotional maturity, physical health and well-being, general knowledge, and language and cognitive development. In looking at maps of where the children lived, the team was able to compare their developmental outcomes to their residential areas. 

They learned that children were more likely to have high developmental scores when they had the greatest exposure to greenery – including trees and grass. However, the best association between environment and development came when children lived the closest to tree-filled spaces.

While green spaces were found to be beneficial for kids’ development, the opposite was also found to be true. Children who lived in areas that were heavily paved were more likely to have lower developmental scores. 

“Because we assessed different types of vegetation, our findings contribute to an improved understanding of associations between exposure to green spaces and early childhood development,” said researcher Ingrid Jarvis. 

Converting paved spaces may be the answer

Moving forward, the team hopes these findings highlight the benefits associated with living close to green spaces – especially those that have a lot of trees. 

“Taken together, our findings suggest that converting paved surfaces to green spaces and, in particular, increasing the amount of trees in neighborhoods may have positive effects on early childhood health and development,” said researcher Matilda van Bosch. “Even minor individual gains in childhood could lead to important public health benefits across the life course.” 

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