Children living near green spaces show better overall development, B.C. study suggests

A child is seen in a forest in this undated image. (Shutterstock)

A B.C. study that compared where kids live to their overall development suggests the benefits of being close to nature can have a dramatic impact at a young age.

The study, conducted by a team of researchers at the University of British Columbia, analyzed development scores of more than 27,000 Metro Vancouver kids who were in kindergarten between 2005 and 2011. Researchers used the early development instrument, or EDI, which is a survey kindergarten teachers complete for children that measures their ability to meet developmental expectations appropriate for their age.

Researchers also estimated how much access there was to greenspace around the children's homes from when they were born until they turned five. They also looked at traffic-related pollution in the area.

"Most of the children were doing well in their development, in terms of language skills, cognitive capacity, socialization and other outcomes," said Ingrid Jarvis, the study's author and a PhD candidate in the department of forest and conservation sciences at UBC, in a news release.

"But what’s interesting is that those children living in a residential location with more vegetation and richer natural environments showed better overall development than their peers with less greenspace."

The researchers suggest the results highlight just how important natural green spaces are because they can reduce the impacts of air pollution and noise, which are known to increase stress and disturb sleep.

"More research is needed, but our findings suggest that urban planning efforts to increase greenspace in residential neighbourhoods and around schools are beneficial for early childhood development, with potential health benefits throughout life," said Matilda van den Bosch, the study's senior author and a UBC research associate.

"Time in nature can benefit everyone, but if we want our children to have a good head start, it’s important to provide an enriching environment through nature contact."

The study was published this month in the Lancet Planetary Health. Researchers from the University of California Berkeley, University of California Los Angeles, Barcelona Institute for Global Health, BC Children’s Hospital and BC Centre for Disease Control all contributed.