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News Article

Living near trees is good for your health

Study quantifies how much an addition of trees in an urban area can improve health

While there have been a number of studies looking into the impact of trees in urban neighbourhoods on our health, a study published earlier this year has gone further by beginning to quantify just how much an addition of trees in an urban area can improve health outcomes. 

The research team, led by psychologist Omid Kardan from the University of Chicago, used a large dataset of public, urban trees in Toronto (530,000 in total) which were categorised by species, location and tree diameter.  This information was supplemented by satellite measurements of non-public green space such as the presence of tree’s in a person’s garden.  The team also obtained the health records of over 30,000 Toronto residents which reported self-perceptions of health as well as heart conditions, prevalence of cancer, mental health problems and diabetes etc.

Commenting on the findings, Marc Berman, a co-author of the study, said “controlling for income, age and education, we found a significant independent effect of trees on the street on health.  It seemed like the effect was strongest for the public [trees].  Not to say the other trees don’t have an impact, but we found stronger effects for the trees on the street.”

The researchers compared the beneficial effect of trees in a neighbourhood to other demographic factors linked to improved health, such as wealth and age.  Consequently, they found that “having 10 more trees in a city block, on average, improves health perception in ways comparable to an increase in annual personal income of $10,000 and moving to a neighbourhood with $10,000 higher median income or being 7 years younger.”  Berman acknowledges that the self-perception of health can be subjective but said that it “correlates pretty strongly with the objectives health measures” that were considered in the study. 

For cardio-metabolic conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity, the researchers similarly found that an increase of 11 trees per city block was “comparable to an increase in annual personal income of £20,000 and moving to a neighbourhood with $20,000 higher median income or being 1.4 years younger.”

The researchers say that because the results are “correlational”, they cannot conclusively identify the precise mechanism by which trees improve health.  There are however, some clear possibilities such as trees improving urban air quality by drawing pollutants into their leaves, thereby removing them from the air.  Other possible explanations include stress reduction from the presence of greenery or somehow increasing a person’s motivation to exercise if they live around trees.

According to Berman, the availability of satellite techniques to quantify the amount of green space in a residential area, have been particularly beneficial to the research by enabling the team to combine the data with a large health database.

The study notes that street trees seemed to have a more beneficial effect than private or backyard trees, which may be explained by the fact that they are “more accessible to all residents in a given neighbourhood.”

Further information is available to subscribers of the Forest Science Database.  For example, using the search string "urban areas" AND trees AND "human health" yields over 150 results.  A selection of these records is provided in the further reading section below.



Kardan, O., Gozdyra, P., Misic, B., Moola, F., Palmer, L. J., Paus, T., Berman, M. G. Neighborhood greenspace and health in a large urban center. Scientific Reports 5, Article number: 11610 (2015) doi:10.1038/srep11610


Article details

  • Author(s)
  • Stephanie Cole
  • Date
  • 25 September 2015
  • Source
  • Scientific Reports
  • Subject(s)
  • Management