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Even with air pollution, parks improve children’s lung function

A new study has identified a link between lung health in under-10s and the proximity of parkland to their home, even when low air quality is taken into account.

Children who live close to green spaces have improved lung function compared with those who live further away, according to research published in the peer-reviewed European Respiratory Journal. Crucially, this remains the case even when air pollution is taken into account. 

green grass field with trees and high rise buildings in distance

The results of the work point to a marked difference in lung health and capacity among young people who lived or moved nearer to parkland during their first ten years of life, compared with those who did not. The exact mechanism behind this is ‘still unknown’, according to the paper, with the study including more than 3,270 children living in the Portuguese city of Porto.

‘We looked at factors like physical activity and air pollution, but the link between lung function and moving closer to green space remained, even after we took these into account,’ said lead author Dr Diogo Queiroz Almeida, of Porto University.

‘It could also be that getting closer to nature reduces stress, which can improve physical health, or it might have a positive effect on children’s microbiome – the community of different bacteria that live in our bodies,’ he continued.

As a result of their research, the team responsible have emphasised the need to support families moving into greener areas, and reiterated the fact that local authorities must create more parks and similar spaces in towns and cities. While accepting that lung improvements were ‘modest’, at around 2%, the impact on the overall population of a city could be significant. 

In order to participate in the study, children took a ‘forced vital capacity test’, measuring the maximum amount of air an individual can blow out following their deepest breath. Those who lived in areas that had become greener between birth and their 10th birthday, either through home moves of changes to the built environment, displayed better lung function, suggesting it is more important for children to grow up in an area with greenery than it is to be born there.

Recent research by Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), supported by “la Caixa” Foundation, found that living close to greenery had a positive impact on the behaviour and health of children, encouraging a more active lifestyle and improving sleep patterns. 

Image credit: Yonghyun Lee

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