green space cutParks, gardens and green space in urban areas can improve the wellbeing and quality of life of people living there, according to the findings of a study.

Researchers from the University of Essex took data from 5,000 UK households across 17 years and found that those living in a greener area had significantly more positive mental health than those from more 'urban' surroundings.

'Green space effect'

The research team examined data from a national survey that followed more than 10,000 adults between 1991 and 2008 as they moved house around the country. They asked participants to report on their own mental health during that time to estimate the "green space effect".

Dr Mathew White and colleagues at the European Centre for the Environment and Human Health found that individuals reported less mental distress and higher life satisfaction when they were living in greener areas.

This was true even after the researchers accounted for changes over time in participants' income, employment, marital status, physical health and housing type.

"We've found that living in an urban area with relatively high levels of green space can have a significantly positive impact on wellbeing, roughly equal to a third of the impact of being married," Dr White said.

While the effect for any one person might be small, Dr White points out that the potential positive effects of green space for society at large might be substantial.

“These kinds of comparisons are important for policymakers when trying to decide how to invest scarce public resources, such as for park development or upkeep, and figuring out what ‘bang’ they’ll get for their buck.

“This research could be important for psychologists, public health officials and urban planners who are interested in learning about the effects that urbanisation and city planning can have on population health and wellbeing.”

Impact comparable to employment

The effect was also found to be equivalent to a tenth of the impact of being employed, as opposed to unemployed.

Even when stacked up against other factors that contribute to life satisfaction, living in a greener area had a significant effect, the study concluded.

The study was published in the journal Psychological Science.