The health benefits of exposure to trees and plants is a rapidly expanding field of study. Research has shown that exposure is associated with improvements in a wide range of health outcomes including cardiovascular disease, birth outcomes, respiratory disease, cancer, mental health and all-cause mortality1. One of the challenges that these studies face is characterizing participants’ exposure to trees and plants. A common approach is to use the normalized difference vegetation index, a greenness index typically derived from satellite imagery. Reliance on the normalized difference vegetation index is understandable; for decades, the imagery required to calculate the normalized difference vegetation index has been available for the entire Earth’s surface and is updated at regular intervals. However, the normalized difference vegetation index may do a poor job of fully characterizing the human experience of being exposed to trees and plants, because scenes with the same normalized difference vegetation index value can appear different to the human eye. We demonstrate this phenomenon by identifying sites in Portland, Oregon that have the same normalized difference vegetation index value as a large, culturally significant elm tree. These sites are strikingly different aesthetically, suggesting that use of the normalized difference vegetation index may lead to exposure misclassification. Where possible, the normalized difference vegetation index should be supplemented with other exposure metrics.
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This work utilized data made available through the NASA Commercial Smallsat Data Acquisition (CSDA) Program.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Donovan, G.H., Gatziolis, D., Derrien, M. et al. Shortcomings of the normalized difference vegetation index as an exposure metric. Nat. Plants 8, 617–622 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41477-022-01170-6
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