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Living near a green space may not have any impact on obesity

New research found obesity levels in the greenest areas were actually higher than those with a medium amount of green space.

Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

HAVING A GREEN space in the area around your home may not have any impact on the amount of exercise you take or on local levels of obesity, according to new Irish research.

The study was carried out by researchers at the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and published this week.

Nearly four out of five Irish adults over the age of 50 are classified as overweight or obese, according to their body mass index measurements.

Some international research suggests that green spaces such as parks in urban areas can encourage physical activity and help to reduce obesity in the urban population. However, researchers said this relationship is difficult to isolate because obesity rates can be influenced by many socio-economic characteristics and behaviours.

In this study, authors linked BMI for a large representative sample of over-50s living in urban areas of Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford to digital maps showing how much green space is near their homes.

Then they used statistical tools to see whether those living in areas with more or less green space are at an increased risk of obesity after taking into account many other socio-economic characteristics of these individuals.

Authors calculated the share of green space in a 1.6km circle around each participant’s home and then classified the participants into five ‘quintiles’ of green space, from the lowest to the highest share.

People living in urban areas with a medium amount of green space show a lower risk of obesity than those living in urban areas with the most or least amount of green space, the study found.

The relationship is statistically significant and large: people who live in areas with the lowest or highest share of green space are 13 percentage points more likely to be obese than those who live in areas with middle amounts of green space.

Researchers point out it is obvious that those living in urban neighbourhoods with very little green space might have a higher risk of obesity. When it comes to the greenest urban areas, which also show elevated obesity rates, they suggest that there is some other feature of the urban landscape that affects the relationship between green spaces and obesity.

“For green spaces to encourage physical activity and thereby benefit health they not only need to be available, but also accessible. For example, perhaps the greenest areas lack footpaths, since they are on the less dense outer fringes of cities, so local residents do not walk as much as those in somewhat more densely populated areas that do have footpaths,” they said.

“However, with the data used in this study we cannot rule out the possibility that the lower obesity risk in areas with middle amounts of greenness might actually be driven by other unidentified factors affecting BMI in these areas.

“Research using more detailed data on land use will be needed to better understand the complex relationships between neighbourhood characteristics and health-enhancing behaviours.”

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