Exeter academics lead WHO report on benefits of urban green and blue spaces to boost health

A growing body of evidence demonstrates the potential of urban green and blue spaces to generate better health and well-being. Better quality spaces are linked to better human health outcomes, and poorer quality spaces to poorer ones.

Requested by the World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Office for Europe, and authored by experts at the University of Exeter, a new review is entitled ‘Assessing the Value or Urban Green and Blue Spaces for Health and Well-being’. It is written by academics from the University’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health- (ECEHH), which is the WHO Collaborating Centre on Natural Environments and Health.

The document aims to support individuals and organisations across the 53 member states of the WHO European Region in making evidence-based decisions. It is intended to stimulate discussion and action among policy-makers and practitioners and to support these stakeholders in making decisions in this complex space.

The report outlines the health and well-being impacts (both benefits and risks) of urban green and blue space that might contribute to assessments of its value; and presents methodologies that policy-makers and practitioners can use to value these impacts.

Co-Author Dr Tim Taylor from ECEHH commented: “Space in urban areas is limited and competition over its usages is growing. Understanding and valuing the multi-functional benefits and risks of urban green and blue spaces may support better decision-making about the allocation of resources to protect or enhance such spaces. In the report we introduce topics relating to freshwater systems; air quality; coasts, seas and oceans; soil, agriculture, nutrition and food security; infectious diseases emerging from human–wildlife interaction; microbial diversity; medicine and health care; and green and blue spaces. Whilst we discuss these topics independently they are inherently interlinked.”

Examples of potential benefits include: carbon capture and storage, improved water quality, stress relief, or reducing harms such as noise, education, heritage, and creative benefits.  Potential risks include: impacts associated with extreme weather events, pollen and allergies, vectors and zoonotic diseases and infections and antimicrobial resistance

There are a number of methods to assess urban green and blue space value, which the report highlights. It recommends using existing tools to quantitatively and qualitatively value the health benefits to help to inform better policy.

The report also identifies evidence gaps and needs for research. Co-author Professor Ruth Garside explained: “Urban green and blue spaces are an important resource for health and well-being. As societies face the challenges of ageing populations, climatic and environmental change, and pressure on health systems, it is critical that to realize the multiple benefits of these spaces.

“Further research is needed about the: use of green space; dose response for exercise and health outcomes; negative impacts; valuation of morbidity; and well-being valuation methods. The use of consistent methods would enable better transfer of results between settings. More studies are needed from countries in East and South Europe and non-EU countries. And the relative costs and benefits of improving green and blue spaces, considering both the capital costs and operations and maintenance costs.”

The report can be accessed here : https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/367630