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Nature is secret weapon in fight for better health

More nature in our lives helps address poor health and inequality. Nature is key to mental and physical wellbeing – fewer anti-depressants and lower death rate.

A lack of nature in our lives is associated with higher obesity levels, mental health problems and higher death rates, according to a study (pdf) for Friends of the Earth.

The study (pdf), by the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) for Friends of the Earth Europe, says lack of access to nature has a strong link to poor health and inequality. It finds:

  • Doctors prescribe fewer anti-depressants in urban areas that contain more trees;
  • Children in deprived areas are 9 times less likely to have access to nature and places to play;
  • Obesity and inactivity are higher among people with less access to nature;
  • Access to nature is associated with mental wellbeing and lower death rates;
  • Pregnant women living close to nature areas on average have lower blood pressure, and give birth to larger babies;
  • Men in deprived urban areas have a 16% lower risk of dying when they have green space nearby.

Robbie Blake, nature campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, says: “The evidence is strong and growing that people and communities can only thrive when they have access to nature.

We all need nature in our lives, it gives us freedom and helps us live healthily; yet deprived communities are routinely cut off from nature and it’s suffocating their wellbeing

Robbie Blake

Protecting and restoring nature sites, improving access to nature in planning, and prescribing nature in preventative healthcare could help tackle poor health in deprived communities.

Patrick Ten Brink, Director at IEEP, says: “Cities like Oslo [in Norway] are making nature accessible to all their citizens.

"We should be inspired by this and work together so that all Europeans have nature within 300m of their homes in the next 10 years."

Sign up for your Friends of the Earth nature kit

Pictured: Beth Collier teaches bushcraft in urban areas. "Nature is so vital to our emotional health," she says. "When we are separated from it our wellbeing suffers." Portait by Andrew McGibbon