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Growing up green: a systematic review of the influence of greenspace on youth development and health outcomes

Abstract

Youth growing up in places with more greenspaces have better developmental outcomes. The literature on greenspace and youth development is largely cross-sectional, thus limited in terms of measuring development and establishing causal inference. We conducted a systematic review of prospective, longitudinal studies measuring the association between greenspace exposure and youth development outcomes measured between ages two and eighteen. We searched Cochrane, PubMed, CINAHL, Scopus, and Environment Complete, and included prospective cohort, quasi-experimental, and experimental studies on greenspace and youth development. Study quality was assessed using a 10-item checklist adapted from a previously published review on greenspace and health. Twenty-eight studies met criteria for review and were grouped into five thematic categories based on reported outcomes: cognitive and brain development, mental health and wellbeing, attention and behavior, allergy and respiratory, and obesity and weight. Seventy-nine percent of studies suggest an association between greenspace and improved youth development. Most studies were concentrated in wealthy, Western European countries, limiting generalizability of findings. Key opportunities for future research include: (1) improved uniformity of standards in measuring greenspace, (2) improved measures to account for large latency periods between greenspace exposure and developmental outcomes, and (3) more diverse study settings and populations.

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Fig. 5: Heat map of quality scores across developmental thematic categories.

Data availability

The data used during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Gloria Willson and John Usseglio from the August C. Long Health Sciences Library at Columbia University Irving Medical Center for their guidance in developing a rigorous search strategy for this review. We would also like thank Dr. Daniel W. Belsky and Dr. Charles C. Branas for their guidance and mentorship in writing this manuscript.

Funding

This work was partially funded by NIEHS T32 ES007322.

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All authors conceptualized the study and drafted, reviewed, and revised the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Nadav L. Sprague.

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Appendices

Appendix 1: Growing up green: a systematic review of the influence of greenspace on youth development and health outcomes

Table 3

Appendix 2. Relevant study characteristics and primary findings from articles evaluating longitudinal association between greenspace exposure and youth development

Table 4

Appendix 3. Present data on risk of bias of each study and outcome level assessment

Table 5

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Sprague, N.L., Bancalari, P., Karim, W. et al. Growing up green: a systematic review of the influence of greenspace on youth development and health outcomes. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41370-022-00445-6

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41370-022-00445-6

Keywords

  • Child exposure/health
  • Children’s health
  • Early life exposure
  • Health studies
  • Sustainable development
  • Epidemiology

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