A recent prospective study published in JAMA Network Open found a significant association between children’s bone health and their proximity to green spaces.
The literature has highlighted the benefits of childhood exposure to green spaces for neurocognitive, social, behavioral, and mental development, as well as well-being. Furthermore, such exposure is associated with a lower body mass index, increased physical activity, and a reduced risk of overweight, obesity, and high blood pressure. However, specific data on the effects on bone mineral density are limited.
To fill this gap, Hanne Sleurs, PhD, a researcher at the University of Hasselt in Belgium, and colleagues tracked the bone health of 327 participants from birth to 4-6 years of age and examined correlations with individual exposure to green spaces. Data collection took place from October 2014 to July 2021.
Green spaces were categorized as high (vegetation height > 3m), low (vegetation height ≤ 3m), and mixed (combination of both). The distances of green spaces from the participants‘ residences ranged from 100m to 3km. The assessment of radial bone mineral density was performed using quantitative ultrasound during follow-up examinations.
The scientists found that participants who frequently spent time in areas with high and mixed vegetation within 500m of their homes had significantly higher bone mineral density than participants at other distances or those who visited spaces with varying vegetation. In addition, access to larger green spaces with mixed and high vegetation within a 1km radius was significantly associated with a lower likelihood of low bone density in children.
„These results illustrate the positive impact on bone health that early childhood contact with green spaces near their home during critical growth and development periods has with long-term effects,“ the researchers wrote.
The results were consistent with those of an earlier study in which the authors identified factors contributing to frequent visits to parks by families, including shorter distances, safety, park organization, natural diversity, and activities offered.
One hypothesis explaining improved bone density in children visiting green spaces is the increased physical activity practiced at these locations. Mechanical loading through physical activity can activate signaling pathways that promote bone formation. Literature has also gathered data on the influence of green spaces on young people engaging in physical activity, showing positive results.
In the view of the study authors, the results are crucial for public health as they underscore the need for urban investment in accessible green spaces as a strategy for fracture and osteoporosis prevention. In the long run, such initiatives lead to lower public health expenditures, as well as physical and emotional benefits in communities adopting environmental strategies, they concluded.
This article was translated from the Portuguese edition of Medscape.