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Health in Ecology Policy

The benefits of green space on health

A healthy environment contributes to a healthy population. For example, when planning housing or other developments, considering how the environment can be best shaped to encourage active play and physical activity, reduce social isolation and encourage community resilience is important to improve health and wellbeing.

However, health data is currently siloed, inconsistent and inaccessible, making it difficult for other sectors, like ecology, to demonstrate and evaluate the impacts their initiatives have on health.

For ecology, the levels of access an individual has to green space in their environment has a significant impact on their health. The World Health Organisation’s review of the evidence linking urban green spaces to better health outcomes includes improved mental health, reduced cardiovascular morbidity and mortality, obesity and risk of type 2 diabetes, and improved pregnancy outcomes.

Mechanisms leading to these health benefits include psychological relaxation and stress alleviation, increased physical activity, reduced exposure to air pollutants, noise and excess heat.

With such strong evidence linking levels of green space to improved health outcomes, it seems nonsensical that there is not a standardised system in place which allows ecology departments to safely and effectively use health data to inform and evaluate their green space initiatives.

Such a system would require an information architecture, that defines how digital health information can be shared between people, organisations and their computers systems. This is something we are interested in developing, as well as using agent-based models to simulate the digital health information flows. Together these would allow policy-makers from all sectors to understand and illustrate digital health information flows, architectures and clinical pathways, providing a safe and effective environment for testing different initiatives and enabling greater interoperability.

Further reading

The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology POST (2016) Green Space and Health, available at: http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/POST-PN-0538

By Allie Short

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