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Special Issue "Natural Environment and Health: The Effect of Socio-Cultural Context on Health Effects of Natural Environments"

A special issue of International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (ISSN 1660-4601). This special issue belongs to the section "Environmental Health".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 April 2018).

Special Issue Editors

Prof. Dr. Christopher J. Gidlow
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Centre for Health and Development (CHAD), Staffordshire University, Leek Road, Stoke-on-Trent, UK
Interests: applied research; natural environments and health; primary-care-based health and physical activity promotion
Prof. Dr. Mark J. Nieuwenhuijsen
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
ISGlobal, Barcelona Institute for Global Health, Barcelona, Spain
Interests: urban and transport planning and health; air pollution; noise; temperature; green space; physical activity
Special Issues and Collections in MDPI journals

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

We are organizing a Special Issue on “Natural Environment and Health: The Effect of Socio-Cultural Context on Health Effects of Natural Environments” in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. The venue is a peer-reviewed scientific journal that publishes articles and communications in the interdisciplinary area of environmental health sciences and public health. For detailed information on the journal, we refer you to https://0-www-mdpi-com.brum.beds.ac.uk/journal/ijerph. 

As the proportion of the global population living in urban areas continues to rise, the opportunities for humans to interact with natural environments reduce. There is a convergent literature suggesting that access to green and blue spaces (i.e., natural environments) is important for health, particularly mental health. However, it is also increasingly apparent that the context, in terms of the socio-demographic, cultural and geographical factors, might dictate the extent, or even the existence of such health protective effects. For example, there is evidence that the strength of associations can vary with socio-economic status and ethnicity, and that an association between natural environment exposure and health observed in one city or country cannot be assumed in another, where a range of cultural and other contextual factors are at play. Moreover, the majority of natural environment-health research is from high income countries, with a dearth of evidence from low-middle income countries.

This Special Issue seeks to further or understanding of how the various cultural and contextual factors influence the potential health benefits of natural environments. Papers that can add to this area are invited. Studies might include, but are not limited to: Multi-city or international analyses; studies that include low income counties; qualitative research; and studies that include various ethnic, cultural or socioeconomic groups. We welcome papers not only on presenting novel results, but also papers presenting methodological aspects, and systematic reviews and meta-analyses.

Dr. Christopher J. Gidlow
Prof. Dr. Mark J. Nieuwenhuijsen
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 2300 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • Natural environment
  • Green space
  • Blue space
  • Public health
  • Health and well-being
  • Environmental exposure
  • Health geography
  • Health inequalities
  • Ethnicity
  • Stress
  • Physical activity
  • Restorative environments

Published Papers (10 papers)

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Research

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Article
An Exploration of Psychosocial Pathways of Parks’ Effects on Health: A Qualitative Study
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018, 15(8), 1693; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/ijerph15081693 - 08 Aug 2018
Cited by 9 | Viewed by 2218
Abstract
Urban green space has been positively associated with psychological and physical health. However, the linkage between exposure to parks and health outcomes remains unclear. The current study examined the meanings that people assign to city parks, as a way to understand the pathways [...] Read more.
Urban green space has been positively associated with psychological and physical health. However, the linkage between exposure to parks and health outcomes remains unclear. The current study examined the meanings that people assign to city parks, as a way to understand the pathways by which parks exert their effects on health. We conducted qualitative interviews with twenty culturally diverse residents in New York City. Thematic analysis was performed on the qualitative data. Results showed that all themes identified were related to parks fulfilling a basic human need for connection to (1) family, loved ones, and friends; (2) community and neighborhood; (3) self; and (4) nature. Based on these data, we proposed a human-centered framework for future research and interventions aimed at catalyzing parks as a vehicle to improve health and wellbeing. A human-centered approach emphasizes targeting the deep-seated needs and values of those we seek to engage and for whom health promotion and disease prevention efforts are designed. Our study shows that park transformations need to incorporate careful considerations of the human need for connection on multiple levels, so that park usage and its consequent health benefits may be optimized. Full article
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Article
EcoHealth and the Determinants of Health: Perspectives of a Small Subset of Canadian Academics in the EcoHealth Community
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018, 15(8), 1688; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/ijerph15081688 - 08 Aug 2018
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1785
Abstract
EcoHealth is an emerging field that examines the complex relationships among humans, animals, and the environment, and how these relationships affect the health of each of these domains. The different types of determinants of health greatly influence human health and well-being. Therefore, EcoHealth’s [...] Read more.
EcoHealth is an emerging field that examines the complex relationships among humans, animals, and the environment, and how these relationships affect the health of each of these domains. The different types of determinants of health greatly influence human health and well-being. Therefore, EcoHealth’s ability to improve human, animal, and environmental health and well-being is, in part, influenced by its ability to acknowledge and integrate the determinants of health. However, our previous research demonstrates that the academic EcoHealth literature had a low, uneven engagement with the determinants of health. Accordingly, to make sense of this gap, our research aim is to better understand the views of a small subset of the Canadian EcoHealth community about EcoHealth and the determinants of health relative to EcoHealth. We used a qualitative research design involving seven semi-structured interviews, which were analyzed using thematic analysis. Our findings suggest a tension across themes and a lack of conceptual engagement with the determinants of health. As we consider a future with rapid, unsustainable changes, we expect the identification and integration of the different types of determinants of health within EcoHealth to be imperative for EcoHealth to attain its goal of improving the health and well-being of humans, animals, and the environment. Full article
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Article
Do Income, Race and Ethnicity, and Sprawl Influence the Greenspace-Human Health Link in City-Level Analyses? Findings from 496 Cities in the United States
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018, 15(7), 1541; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/ijerph15071541 - 20 Jul 2018
Cited by 32 | Viewed by 3342
Abstract
Examination of the greenspace—human health relationship operates in at least four dimensions: what is considered greenspace? which moderators and mediators are included? what outcomes are measured? and which units of analysis (e.g., individuals, cities) are studied? We examined three of these four dimensions [...] Read more.
Examination of the greenspace—human health relationship operates in at least four dimensions: what is considered greenspace? which moderators and mediators are included? what outcomes are measured? and which units of analysis (e.g., individuals, cities) are studied? We examined three of these four dimensions in a cross-sectional study of 496 of the 500 most populated US cities (total population size = 97,574,613, average population per city = 197,920). Spatial average models tested the effect of two greenspace measures (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index greenness and tree cover) on two outcomes (obesity and mental health), while adjusting for income, race and ethnicity, sprawl, age, sex, physical inactivity, median age of housing, and total population. We conducted analyses at the city scale, which is an understudied unit of analysis, and compared findings to individual- and neighborhood-level studies. In two of four models, greenspace was associated with better health. We found race and ethnicity moderated this relationship with varying results. In full sample analyses, cities with greater percentages of non-Hispanic Whites showed links between higher tree cover and lower obesity but marginal relationships between higher greenness and lower obesity. In subsample analyses with majority-non-Hispanic Black cities, higher tree cover was associated with lower obesity and better mental health. These findings advance previous research by showing that race and ethnicity moderate the greenspace—health link at the city level. Full article
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Article
Residential Greenness and Birthweight in the State of Massachusetts, USA
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018, 15(6), 1248; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/ijerph15061248 - 12 Jun 2018
Cited by 30 | Viewed by 2706
Abstract
Natural vegetation, or greenness, may benefit maternal health and consequently, fetal growth, by providing opportunities for physical activity and psychological restoration, and decreasing detrimental environmental exposures. We retrieved Massachusetts Birth Registry data from 2001–2013 and investigated the association between residential greenness and birthweight [...] Read more.
Natural vegetation, or greenness, may benefit maternal health and consequently, fetal growth, by providing opportunities for physical activity and psychological restoration, and decreasing detrimental environmental exposures. We retrieved Massachusetts Birth Registry data from 2001–2013 and investigated the association between residential greenness and birthweight in full-term births (≥37 weeks gestation). We calculated average residential greenness during pregnancy using 250 m normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) from satellites. We estimated associations between greenness and continuous birthweight, term low birthweight (TLBW: <2500 g), and small for gestational age (SGA: <10th percentile of birthweight stratified by sex and gestational age) adjusted for individual and neighborhood covariates and considered nonlinearity and effect modification. Higher greenness exposure was associated with higher birthweight with stronger associations in the lower than higher range of greenness. Greenness was associated with lower odds of TLBW (OR 0.98; 95% CI 0.97, 0.99 per 0.1 increase in NDVI) and SGA (OR 0.98; 95% 0.97, 0.99) and associations varied by population density (TLBW) and socioeconomic status (TLBW, SGA). Our results suggest that greenness is beneficial to fetal growth exhibited by higher birthweight and lower odds of TLBW and SGA. Unlike prior studies, associations with TLBW and SGA appeared stronger among those with higher socioeconomic status. Full article
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Article
Nearby Nature ‘Buffers’ the Effect of Low Social Connectedness on Adult Subjective Wellbeing over the Last 7 Days
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018, 15(6), 1238; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/ijerph15061238 - 12 Jun 2018
Cited by 19 | Viewed by 4375
Abstract
Subjective wellbeing (SWB) is positively associated with both social connectedness and contact with natural environments. However, few studies have explored how these two predictors of SWB might interact. The current work hypothesised that high levels of nature exposure might mitigate (or buffer) any [...] Read more.
Subjective wellbeing (SWB) is positively associated with both social connectedness and contact with natural environments. However, few studies have explored how these two predictors of SWB might interact. The current work hypothesised that high levels of nature exposure might mitigate (or buffer) any negative effects of a lack of recent social connectedness on wellbeing, by offering an alternative way for individuals to connect with the world around them. Results are based on data from 359 individuals who responded to an online survey in the UK. Measures of SWB, social connectedness and nature visit frequency all focused on the last seven days, and nearby nature was assessed in terms of the view from home and surrounding area. Regression models predicting SWB used interaction terms to test the buffering hypothesis, and controlled for sociodemographic and personality variables. Supporting predictions, social connectedness, nearby nature, and nature visit frequency were all positively associated with SWB. Partially supporting our buffering hypothesis, nearby nature, but not nature visit frequency, moderated the relationship between social connectedness and SWB. People with poor social connectedness still showed high levels of wellbeing if they reported high levels of nearby nature, and there was a lower likelihood of levels of wellbeing associated with depression among those with poor social connectedness if they had high nearby nature. Results confirmed the importance of nature exposure for wellbeing in itself, and highlighted its potential role in offering socially isolated individuals a way of satisfying the need to feel connected. Full article
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Article
Influence of Personal Factors on Sound Perception and Overall Experience in Urban Green Areas. A Case Study of a Cycling Path Highly Exposed to Road Traffic Noise
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018, 15(6), 1118; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/ijerph15061118 - 30 May 2018
Cited by 22 | Viewed by 2862
Abstract
In contemporary urban design, green public areas play a vital role. They have great societal value, but if exposed to undue environmental noise their restorative potential might be compromised. On the other hand, research has shown that the presence of greenery can moderate [...] Read more.
In contemporary urban design, green public areas play a vital role. They have great societal value, but if exposed to undue environmental noise their restorative potential might be compromised. On the other hand, research has shown that the presence of greenery can moderate noise annoyance in areas with high sound levels, while personal factors are expected to play an important role too. A cycling path bordered by vegetation, but highly exposed to road traffic noise, was here considered as a case study. A sound perception survey was submitted to participants on site and they were subsequently sorted into groups according to their noise sensitivity, visual attention and attitude towards greenery. The aim of this study was testing whether these three personal factors could affect their noise perception and overall experience of the place. Results showed that people highly sensitive to noise and more sceptical towards greenery’s potential as an environmental moderator reported worse soundscape quality, while visually attentive people reported better quality. These three personal factors were found to be statistically independent. This study shows that several person-related factors impact the assessment of the sound environment in green areas. Although the majority of the respondents benefit from the presence of visual green, policy-makers and planners should be aware that for a significant subset of the population, it should be accompanied by a tranquil soundscape to be fully appreciated. Full article
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Article
Children and Nature: Linking Accessibility of Natural Environments and Children’s Health-Related Quality of Life
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018, 15(6), 1072; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/ijerph15061072 - 25 May 2018
Cited by 23 | Viewed by 3719
Abstract
A growing body of research suggests that increasing children’s nature interactions can have positive benefits for their health-related quality of life (HRQOL); however, researchers have yet to examine how geographical context influences this relationship. The purpose of this study was to examine individual-level [...] Read more.
A growing body of research suggests that increasing children’s nature interactions can have positive benefits for their health-related quality of life (HRQOL); however, researchers have yet to examine how geographical context influences this relationship. The purpose of this study was to examine individual-level and environmental factors that are associated with HRQOL of children from different geographical contexts. Data were collected for 851 children from 34 elementary schools in Ontario, Canada. The natural environments around each child’s home were computed using geospatial analyses in a geographic information system. Natural environment measures were combined with HRQOL and the demographics from child surveys to be used in a series of step-wise linear regression models. These models explored the relationship between children’s HRQOL and the natural environment in urban/suburban and rural populations. In addition to important individual-level determinants, the findings revealed that characteristics of the natural environment, including the amount of greenness, park, and water, show significant relationships in the urban/suburban population. Interpersonal variables were the key predictors of HRQOL in the rural population. Where children live influences relationships between nature and HRQOL. These findings have implications for policymakers, health practitioners, educators, and parents in the design and the promotion of nature for children’s HRQOL. Full article
Article
Impact of the Social and Natural Environment on Preschool-Age Children Weight
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018, 15(3), 449; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/ijerph15030449 - 05 Mar 2018
Cited by 19 | Viewed by 3142
Abstract
Background: The complex impact of environmental and social factors on preschool children being overweight/obese is unclear. We examined the associations between the levels of green space exposure and the risk of being overweight/obese for 4–6 year-old children and assessed the impact of maternal [...] Read more.
Background: The complex impact of environmental and social factors on preschool children being overweight/obese is unclear. We examined the associations between the levels of green space exposure and the risk of being overweight/obese for 4–6 year-old children and assessed the impact of maternal education on these associations. Methods: This cross-sectional study included 1489 mother-child pairs living in Kaunas, Lithuania, in 2012–2013. We assessed children overweight/obesity by standardized questionnaires using international body mass index cut-off points, and the level of greenness exposures by satellite-derived normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) of each child’s home and by the distance to a nearest city park. The maternal education was used as the SES indicator. We used logistic regression models to investigate the strength of the associations. Results: Children from families with poorer maternal education, pathological mother-child relations and smoking mothers, and living in areas with less greenness exposure (NDVI-100 m), had significantly higher odds ratios of being overweight/obese. Lower maternal education and distance to a city park modified the effect of greenness cover level exposure on the risk of children being overweight/obese. Conclusions: Higher greenness exposure in the residential settings has beneficial effects on children’s physical development. The green spaces exposures for psychosocial stress management is recommended as a measure to prevent overweight/obesity among children. Full article
Article
Relationships between Characteristics of Urban Green Land Cover and Mental Health in U.S. Metropolitan Areas
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018, 15(2), 340; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/ijerph15020340 - 14 Feb 2018
Cited by 36 | Viewed by 3733
Abstract
Urbanization increases risk for depression and other mental disorders. A growing body of research indicates the natural environment confers numerous psychological benefits including alleviation of mental distress. This study examined land cover types and landscape metrics in relation to mental health for 276 [...] Read more.
Urbanization increases risk for depression and other mental disorders. A growing body of research indicates the natural environment confers numerous psychological benefits including alleviation of mental distress. This study examined land cover types and landscape metrics in relation to mental health for 276 U.S. counties within metropolitan areas having a population of 1 million or more. County Health Rankings and Behavioral Risk and Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) provided a measure of mental health. The 2011 National Land Cover Database (NLCD) provided data on green land cover types, from which seven landscape metrics were generated to characterize landscape patterns. Spearman’s rho correlation and stepwise logistic regression models, respectively, were employed to examine bivariate and multivariate relationships. Models were adjusted for county population and housing density, region, race, and income to account for potential confounding. Overall, individual measures of landscape patterns showed stronger associations with mental health than percent total cover alone. Greater edge contrast was associated with 3.81% lower odds of Frequent Mental Distress (FMD) (Adjusted Odd’s Ratio (AOR) = 0.9619, 95% CI = 0.9371, 0.9860). Shrubland cohesion was associated with greater odds of FMD (AOR = 1.0751, 95% CI = 1.0196, 1.1379). In addition, distance between shrubland cover was associated with greater odds of FMD (AOR = 1.0027, 95% CI = 1.0016, 1.0041). Although effect sizes were small, findings suggest different types of landscape characteristics may have different roles in improving mental health. Full article
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Review

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Review
Trends and Knowledge Gaps in the Study of Nature-Based Participation by Latinos in the United States
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018, 15(6), 1287; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/ijerph15061287 - 19 Jun 2018
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 2349
Abstract
Mounting evidence supports health and well-being benefits associated with nature experiences, while also highlighting race- and class-based inequalities in access and exposure. We synthesized the literature on nature contact by Latinos in the United States to assess the state of knowledge and strategically [...] Read more.
Mounting evidence supports health and well-being benefits associated with nature experiences, while also highlighting race- and class-based inequalities in access and exposure. We synthesized the literature on nature contact by Latinos in the United States to assess the state of knowledge and strategically identify research needs to improve outcomes and reduce health disparities for this rapidly growing ethnic group. Our systematic review revealed 108 articles with a notable increase in number of papers over the past 3 decades. We noted that the body of research is focused on certain demographic targets (adults in urban areas) with a relative dearth of knowledge for others (children, seniors, and rural areas). Our analysis also revealed strong compartmentalizing of studies into research “clusters” based on nonoverlapping topics and types of outcomes that are measured. Although one-third of studies explored health outcomes, these studies rarely examined other outcomes or research topics. Moreover, less than 7% of studies reported on interventions. Given the potential for nature contact to enhance health and well-being, there is substantial need for multidisciplinary research that explores interactions between social, cultural, and economic factors, and how those ultimately relate to nature contact and outcomes for Latinos in the United States. Full article
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