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Virtual Reality and Nature Lab

Our Research

Exploring Technology in the Natural World.

Researchers at the Virtual Reality and Nature Lab apply an interdisciplinary and technological focus to study the interactions and connections between people and the natural world. 

Our research tends to focus on four key areas: 

  1. Reducing Inequalities
  2. Virtual Reality
  3. Underlying Pathways Between Nature and Health
  4. Fostering Education and Engagement

Read more about our current research on each of this topics below.

If you have any questions about current, previous or upcoming research projects, please email us at vrnaturelab@gmail.com.

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Reducing Inequalities

Lab researchers explore how green spaces, or the lack thereof, can impact a person’s health and quality of life. We look at what factors influence green space, and the relationship between access to a natural environment and health care expenditures.

Sample Publications
  • Could Nature Help Children Rise Out of Poverty? Green Space and Future Earnings From A Cohort In Ten U.S. Cities

    Research Team

    Matthew Browning and Alessandro Rigolon

    Project Overview

    Growing up in poverty is associated with poor health, and the American Dream of upward mobility is becoming an illusion for many low-income children. But nearby green space can support academic achievement, creativity, and emotional regulation, and these traits might help children rise out of poverty. This study examined the relationship between recent incomes of children born into poverty in the ten largest U.S. cities and densities of residential green space during childhood.

    We calculated park proximity, park acreage, new park development, and NDVI greenness for 1980–1990 from Landsat and Trust for Public Land data. We obtained the 2014 income for children born between 1978 and 1982 into families in poverty from The Opportunity Atlas cohort, aggregated at the tract level (n = 5849).

    Conditional autoregressive (CAR) models of tracts showed statistically significant associations between income rank and above-average levels of greenness but not between income rank and park measures, adjusting for individual and neighborhood confounders and spatial autocorrelation. We estimate that, over a 30-year career, children growing up in tracts with the most vegetative cover will earn cumulatively $28,000 more than children growing up in tracts with the least cover, on average. Tracts with lower than average levels of precipitation, higher disadvantage, higher population density, or higher annual temperatures do not show beneficial effects of green space.

    Read the Article

    Could Nature Help Children Rise Out of Poverty? Green Space and Future Earnings From a Cohort in Ten U.S. Cities

  • Is Green Land Cover Associated With Less Health Care Spending?

    Research Team

    Matthew Browning, Doug Becker, Ming Kuo and Stephen van den Eeden

    Project Overview

    Green land covers (i.e., forests and parks) are natural resources that are associated with better human health. These places also provide economic value in the form of energy conservation, home value, and climate mitigation. This study investigated if green land covers are associated with lower healthcare spending at a nationwide scale and found:

    Associations between increased forest and shrub covers and median Medicare spending, which findings held for all but the most urban and wealthy counties.

    For grass, agriculture, and urban vegetation land covers, we did not observe clear associations with spending.

    Regions with more green land cover may hold both health and economic benefits for the elderly and disabled, although the ecological study design needs to be kept in mind.  These results should be replicated using more definitive study designs.

    Read the Article

    Is Green Land Cover Associated with Less Health Care Spending?

  • Access To Urban Green Space In Cities Of The Global South

    Research Team

    Alessandro Rigolon, Matthew Browning, Kangjae Lee and Seunguk Shin

    Project Overview

    This review examines disparities in access to urban green space (UGS) based on socioeconomic status (SES) and race-ethnicity in Global South cities. It was motivated by documented human health and ecosystem services benefits of UGS in Global South countries and UGS planning barriers in rapidly urbanizing cities. Additionally, another review of Global North UGS studies uncovered that high-SES and White people have access to a higher quantity of higher quality UGSs than low-SES and racial-ethnic minority people but that no clear differences exist regarding who lives closer to UGS.

    Thus, we conducted a systematic review to uncover (1) whether UGS inequities in Global North cities are evident in Global South cities and (2) whether inequities in the Global South vary between continents. Through the PRISMA approach and five inclusion criteria, we identified 46 peer-reviewed articles that measured SES or racial-ethnic disparities in access to UGS in Global South cities. We found inequities for UGS quantity (high-SES people are advantaged in 85% of cases) and UGS proximity (74% of cases). Inequities were less consistent for UGS quality (65% of cases). We also found that UGS inequities were consistent across African, Asian, and Latin American cities. These findings suggest that Global South cities experience similar inequities in UGS quantity and quality as Global North cities, but that the former also face inequities in UGS proximity.

    Read the Article

    Access to Urban Green Space in Cities of the Global South

  • Inequalities In The Quality Of Urban Park Systems

    Research Team

    Alessandro Rigolon, Matthew Browning and Viniece Jennings

    Project Overview

    A growing body of research shows affluent white neighborhoods have more acres of parks and more park facilities than low-income ethnic minority communities in many Global North cities. Most of these investigations focused on neighborhood-level differences and did not analyze broader inequities across cities. This is a particularly significant limitation in the U.S., where changes in the political economy of parks due to a reduced local tax base have led cities to compete against each other to secure park funding from national nonprofits and public agencies.

    To address this gap, we examined whether the quality of urban park systems – measured through The Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore – varies depending on a city’s median income and ethnic composition. Based on multivariate regressions in which we control for features of the urban fabric, we found U.S. cities with higher median incomes and lower percentages of Latino and Non-Hispanic Black residents have higher ParkScores than other cities. Some inequities also emerged for park coverage, park spending per person, and park facilities, with majority-Latino cities being particularly disadvantaged.

    These findings echo the results of neighborhood-level studies in Global North contexts, suggesting neighborhood-level inequities in park provision might scale up to inequities across cities. This study contributes to environmental justice theory and advocacy by demonstrating the importance of scaling up analyses of park provision to cross-city comparisons. Implications for landscape planning, public policy, and grant making are discussed.

    Read the Article

    Inequalities in the Quality of Urban Park Systems

Virtual Reality

We explore how people respond to simulations of nature experiences.

We ask questions such as how certain people may respond to virtual stimuli compared to the real outdoors – and why that matters.

Sample Publications
  • Can Simulated Nature Support Health?

    Research Team

    Matthew Browning, Katherine J. Mimnaugh, Carena van Riper, Heidemarie K Laurent and Steven M. LaValle

    Project Overview

    Nature exposure in mobile virtual reality (VR) could provide emotional well-being benefits for people who cannot access the outdoors. Little is known about how these simulated experiences compare with “real” nature experiences. We conducted an experiment with healthy undergraduate students (n = 94) that tested the effects of 6-minutes of outdoor nature exposure with 360-degree VR nature videos, which were recorded at the same location as the outdoor site. Changes in mood before and after the exposure and restorativeness were measured. Outdoor and VR nature preserved mood equally well and were rated as equally restorative when compared to an indoor control setting. These findings held even after adjusting for preferences toward nature (e.g., engagement with beauty, disgust sensitivity), experiences in nature and VR, and demographic characteristics. We discuss implications for environmental psychology theory and future research needs related to understanding the emotional well-being benefits derived from VR nature experiences. 

    Read the Article

    Can Simulated Nature Support Health? Comparing Short, Single-Doses Of 360-Degree Nature Videos in Virtual Reality with the Outdoors

  • The Role Of Methodological Choices In The Effects Of Experimental Exposure To Simulated Natural Landscapes On Human Health And Cognitive Performance: A Systematic Review

    Research Team

    Matthew Browning, Fatemeh Saeidi-Rizi, Olivia McAnirlin, Hyunseo Yoon and Yue Pei

    Project Overview

    We review the methods and findings of experiments that have examined the effects of exposure to simulated natural landscapes on human health and cognitive performance. Keyword searches of PubMed, Scopus, and Web of Science resulted in the inclusion of 175 experiments that were documented across 148 research articles.

    Contrary to expectations, study findings did not differ based on the duration, frequency, or type of exposure. Experiments with weaker study designs demonstrated more positive findings than those with stronger study designs. Evidence of publication bias stemmed from the finding that exposure to simulated nature was almost always reported to have had positive restorative effects and that a majority of the reviewed articles were of poor quality with regard to how the selection of natural landscapes was reported. Based on the conclusions of our review, we provide recommendations for best practices in future research studies that use simulations of nature.

  • Is Virtual Window Looking Onto Nature Restorative In A Busy Environment? Effects On Affect, Attention, And Perceived Restorativeness

    Research Team

    Seunguk Shin and Matthew Browning

    Project Overview

    This study examines the effects of virtual windows with nature scenes on affect, attention, and perceived restoration. Experiment 1 included 88 undergraduate students exposed to a virtual environment of a busy café created by 6-minute video projection based on the concept of CAVE VR and an essential oil diffuser with the aroma of coffee. While the front and left side of the room had the café scenes, the right side presented an open or a closed window looking onto nature, or a brick wall.

    Changes in pre- to post-treatment scores on the PANAS and the digit span forward test suggested that virtual open or closed virtual windows did not have stronger restorative effects than the brick wall. To see if these results were due to the busyness of the café overwhelming the restorativeness of nature, Experiment 2 using an online survey with 10-second videos was conducted on 577 students. Again, no differences were observed between the three treatments projected in a café and the three treatments projected in an empty classroom setting. However, windows were more restorative than brick walls in both settings.

    These experiments suggest that impact of the environmental context in which virtual nature is shown (i.e., a busy café) on restoration are moderated by the level of immersion and dosage (e.g., duration of exposure). More research is needed on the effects of busyness and ecological validity of simulated sights, sounds, and smells of nature.

Underlying Pathways Between Nature and Health

We delve into questions of why or how time spent in nature – either real or simulated – can affect our overall health and wellbeing.

Sample Publications
  • Within What Distance Does "Greenness" Best Predict Physical Health? A Systematic Review of Articles with GIS Buffer Analyses Across the Lifespan

    Research Team

    Matthew Browning and Kangjae Lee

    Project Overview

    Is the amount of "greenness" within a 250-m, 500-m, 1000-m or a 2000-m buffer surrounding a person's home a good predictor of their physical health? The evidence is inconclusive. We reviewed Web of Science articles that used geographic information system buffer analyses to identify trends between physical health, greenness, and distance within which greenness is measured.

    Our inclusion criteria were use of buffers to estimate residential greenness, a statistical analyses that calculated significance of the greenness-physical health relationship, and peer-reviewed articles published in English between 2007 and 2017.

    To capture multiple findings from a single article, we selected our unit of inquiry as the analysis, not the article. Our final sample included 260 analyses in 47 articles. All aspects of the review were in accordance with PRISMA guidelines. Analyses were independently judged as more, less, or least likely to be biased based on the inclusion of objective health measures and income/education controls. We found evidence that larger buffer sizes, up to 2000 m, better predicted physical health than smaller ones. We recommend that future analyses use nested rather than overlapping buffers to evaluate to what extent greenness not immediately around a person's home (i.e., within 1000-2000 m) predicts physical health.

    Read the Article

    Within What Distance Does "Greenness" Best Predict Physical Health? A Systematic Review of Articles with GIS Buffer Analyses across the Lifespan.

  • Fecal and soil microbiota composition of gardening and non-gardening families

    Research Team

    Marina D. Brown; Leila M. Shinn; Ginger Reeser; Matthew H.E.M. Browning; Andiara Schwingel; Naiman A. Khan; Hannah D. Holscher

    Project Overview

    Historically, humans have interacted with soils, which contain a rich source of microorganisms. Fruit and vegetable gardening is the primary interaction humans have with soil today. Animal research reveals that soil microorganisms can be transferred to the rodent intestine. However, studies on fecal and soil microbial changes associated with gardening in humans are lacking. The current case-controlled cohort study aimed to characterize the fecal and soil microbiota of gardening families (n = 10) and non-gardening (control) families (n = 9). Families included two adults and one child (5–18 years) for a total of 56 participants. All participants provided a fecal sample, soil sample, and diet history questionnaires before the gardening season (April) and during the peak of the gardening season (August). Healthy Eating Index (HEI-2015) scores and nutrient analysis were performed. Fecal and soil DNA were extracted and amplified. Sequence data were then processed and analyzed. Peak season gardening families tended to have greater fecal operational features, a greater Faith's Phylogenetic Diversity score, greater fiber intake, and higher abundances of fiber fermenting bacteria than peak control families. Soil endemic microbes were also shared with gardening participant’s fecal samples. This study revealed that the fecal microbiota of gardening families differs from non-gardening families, and that there are detectable changes in the fecal microbial community of gardeners and their family members over the course of the gardening season. Additional research is necessary to determine if changes induced by gardening on the gut microbiota contribute to human health.

    Read the article

    https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-022-05387-5

  • Association Between Exposure to Volatile Organic Compounds and Streetscape Tree Canopy

    Research Team

    Ray Yeager, Natasha DeJarnett, David J Tollerud, Pawel Lorkiewicz, Xie Zhengzhi, Rachel Keith, Sanjay Srivastava, Matthew Browning, Nagma Zafar, Sathya Krishnasamy, Andrew Defilippis, Shesh N Rai and Aruni Bhatnagar

    Project Overview

    Examines the associations between street canopy and exposure to harmful Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Green vegetation has been shown to ameliorate exposure to airborne concentrations of particulate matter. However, it is unclear whether residential-area greenness, specifically street tree canopy, may reduce exposure to VOCs, a class of air pollutants with wide ranging impacts on human health.

    We geocoded the residential locations of 213 nonsmoking study participants and quantified the peak, cumulative, contemporaneous, and spatial variation of residential greenery via satellite-derived Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), as well as tree canopy cover. As a novel metric of greenness evaluation, streetscape canopy cover was isolated from overall canopy via street and civic right-of-way data buffer areas. Generalized linear models were used to determine associations between participant residential greenness and urinary metabolites of 16 harmful anthropogenic VOCs in a cross-sectional analysis, while adjusting for relevant demographic, clinical, and environmental covariates. Urinary metabolites of acrylamide, acrylonitrile, propylene oxide, and xylene were inversely associated with 10% elevated streetscape canopy cover within a 100 m radius of homes.

    Despite being a subset of overall canopy cover, streetscape canopy cover was significantly associated with more urinary metabolites than overall canopy cover. Streetscape greenness was inversely associated with exposure to harmful anthropogenic VOCs and represents an important metric of greenness in assessment of pollutant exposure. Our results demonstrate that planting efforts targeting streetscapes may be more effective at reducing VOC exposure than untargeted planting efforts.

    Read the Article

    Association Between Exposure to Volatile Organic Compounds and Streetscape Tree Canopy

  • Scanning for Threats and Natural Environments Giving Our Reptilian Brains a Break

    Research Team

    Matthew Browning and Hector Olvera Alvarez

    Project Overview

    Scanning for threats explains how life experience may moderate associations with cardiovascular health. This theory may also relate to the conditions under which nature shows negative associations with health. To increase efficacy of nature-based health interventions, let us realize the importance of calming our need to scan for threats and give our reptilian brains a break.

    Read the Article

    Editorial Commentary: Scanning for Threats and Natural Environments Giving our Reptilian Brains a Break

Fostering Education and Engagement

We look at whether there is a relationship between a students’ access to a natural environment and their learning performance.

Sample Publications
  • Do Lessons in Nature Boost Subsequent Classroom Engagement?

    Research Team

    Ming Kuo, Matthew Browning and Milbert L. Penner

    Project Overview

    Teachers wishing to offer lessons in nature may hold back for fear of leaving students keyed up and unable to concentrate in subsequent, indoor lessons. This study tested the hypothesis that lessons in nature have positive—not negative—aftereffects on subsequent classroom engagement.

    Using carefully matched pairs of lessons (one in a relatively natural outdoor setting and one indoors), we observed subsequent classroom engagement during an indoor instructional period, replicating these comparisons over 10 different topics and weeks in the school year, in each of two third grade classrooms. Pairs were roughly balanced in how often the outdoor lesson preceded or followed the classroom lesson. Classroom engagement was significantly better after lessons in nature than after their matched counterparts for four of the five measures developed for this study: teacher ratings; third-party tallies of “redirects” (the number of times the teacher stopped instruction to direct student attention back onto the task at hand); independent, photo-based ratings made blind to condition; and a composite index each showed a nature advantage; student ratings did not.

    This nature advantage held across different teachers and held equally over the initial and final 5 weeks of lessons. And the magnitude of the advantage was large. In 48 out of 100 paired comparisons, the nature lesson was a full standard deviation better than its classroom counterpart; in 20 of the 48, the nature lesson was over two standard deviations better. The rate of “redirects” was cut almost in half after a lesson in nature, allowing teachers to teach for longer periods uninterrupted. Because the pairs of lessons were matched on teacher, class (students and classroom), topic, teaching style, week of the semester, and time of day, the advantage of the nature-based lessons could not be attributed to any of these factors. It appears that, far from leaving students too keyed up to concentrate afterward, lessons in nature may actually leave students more able to engage in the next lesson, even as students are also learning the material at hand. Such “refueling in flight” argues for including more lessons in nature in formal education.

    Read the Article

    Do Lessons in Nature Boost Subsequent Classroom Engagement? Refueling Students in Flight.

  • Sustainably Connecting Children with Nature - An Exploratory Study of Nature Play Area Visitor Impacts and Their Management

    Research Team

    Matthew Browning, Jeffrey L. Marion and Timothy G. Gregoire

    Project Overview

    Parks are developing nature play areas to improve children's health and "connect" them with nature. However, these play areas are often located in protected natural areas where managers must balance recreation with associated environmental impacts. In this exploratory study, we sought to describe these impacts. We also investigated which ages, gender, and play group sizes most frequently caused impact and where impacts most frequently occur. We measured the lineal and aerial extent and severity of impacts at three play areas in the eastern United States.

    Methods included soil and vegetation loss calculations, qualitative searches and tree and shrub damage classifications. Additionally, we observed 12 hours of play at five play areas. Results showed that measurable negative impacts were caused during 33% of the time children play. On average, 76% of groundcover vegetation was lost at recreation sites and 100% was lost at informal trails. In addition, approximately half of all trees and shrubs at sites were damaged. Meanwhile, soil exposure was 25% greater on sites and trails than at controls. Boys and small group sizes more frequently caused impact, and informal recreation sites were most commonly used for play. No statistically significant correlations were found between age or location and impact frequency.

    Managers interested in developing nature play areas should be aware of, but not deterred by these impacts. The societal benefits of unstructured play in nature may outweigh the environmental costs. Recommended management strategies include selecting impact-resistant sites, improving site resistance, promoting low impact practices, and managing adaptively. 

    Read the Article

    Sustainably Connecting Children with Nature - An Exploratory Study of Nature Play Area Visitor Impacts and Their Management.

  • Greenness and School-Wide Test Scores Are Not Always Positively Associated

    Research Team

    Matthew Browning, Ming Kuo, Sonya Sachdeva and Kangjae Lee

    Project Overview

    Recent studies find vegetation around schools correlates positively with student test scores. To test this relationship in schools with less green cover and more disadvantaged students, we replicated a leading study, using six years of NDVI-derived greenness data to predict school-level math and reading achievement in 404 Chicago public schools.

    A direct replication yielded highly mixed results with some significant positive relationships between greenness and academic achievement, some negative, and some null-but accompanying VIF scores in the thousands indicated untenable levels of multicollinearity.

    An adjusted replication corrected for multi-collinearity and yielded stable results; surprisingly, all models then showed near-zero but statistically significant negative relationships between greenness and performance.

    In low-green, high-disadvantage schools, negative greenness-academic performance links may reflect the predominance of grass in measures of overall greenness and/or insufficient statistical controls for the moderating effect of disadvantage.

    Read the Article

    Greenness and School-Wide Test Scores Are Not Always Positively Associated.

  • Might School Performance Grow on Trees?

    Research Team

    Ming Kuo, Matthew Browning, Sonya Sachdeva, Kangjae Lee and Lynne Westphal

    Project Overview

    In the United States, schools serving urban, low-income students are among the lowest-performing academically. Previous research in relatively well-off populations has linked vegetation in schoolyards and surrounding neighborhoods to better school performance even after controlling for important confounding factors, raising the tantalizing possibility that greening might boost academic achievement.

    This study extended previous cross-sectional research on the “greenness”-academic achievement link to a public school district in which nine out of ten children were eligible for free lunch. In generalized linear mixed models, Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR)-based measurements of green cover for 318 Chicago public schools predicted statistically significantly better school performance on standardized tests of math, with marginally statistically significant results for reading—even after controlling for disadvantage, an index combining poverty and minority status. Pupil/teacher ratio %bilingual, school size, and %female could not account for the greenness-performance link. Interactions between greenness and Disadvantage suggest that the greenness-academic achievement link is different for student bodies with different levels of disadvantage.

    To determine what forms of green cover were most strongly tied to academic achievement, tree cover was examined separately from grass and shrub cover; only tree cover predicted school performance. Further analyses examined the unique contributions of “school tree cover” (tree cover for the schoolyard and a 25 m buffer) and “neighborhood tree cover” (tree cover for the remainder of a school’s attendance catchment area). School greenness predicted math achievement when neighborhood greenness was controlled for, but neighborhood greenness did not significantly predict either reading or math achievement when school greenness was taken into account. Future research should assess whether greening schoolyards boost school performance.

    Read the Article

    Might School Performance Grow on Trees?

Reviews on Nature and Health

  • Greenspace and human health: An umbrella review

    Research Team 

    Bo-Yi Yang; Tianyu Zhao; Li-Xin Hu; Li-Wen Hu; Yunjiang Yu; Guang-Hui Dong

    Project Overview

    Multiple systematic reviews on greenspace and health outcomes exist, but the overall evidence base remains unclear. Therefore, we performed an umbrella review to collect and appraise all relevant systematic reviews of epidemiological studies on greenness exposure and health. We searched PubMed, Embase, and Web of Science from inception to June 28, 2021, and screened references of relevant articles. Systematic reviews with or without meta-analyses of epidemiological studies that examined the associations of greenness with any health outcome were included. Two independent investigators performed study selection and data extraction. We also evaluated the methodological quality of the included systematic reviews using the “Assessing the Methodological Quality of Systematic Reviews 2” checklist. A total of 40 systematic reviews and meta-analyses were included, of which most were cross-sectional studies conducted in high-income countries. Greenspace exposure was estimated with various objective and subjective parameters. Beneficial associations of greenspace with all-cause and stroke-specific mortality, CVD morbidity, cardiometabolic factors, mental health, low birth weight, physical activity, sleep quality, and urban crime were observed. No consistent associations between greenspace and other health outcomes (e.g., cancers) were observed. Most of the included systematic reviews and meta-analyses had one or more limitations in methodology. Our findings provide supportive evidence regarding the beneficial effects of greenspace exposure on some aspects of human health. However, the credibility of such evidence was compromised by methodological limitations. Better performed systematic reviews and meta-analyses as well as longitudinal designed primary studies are needed to validate this conclusion.

    Read the article

    Greenspace and human health: An umbrella review

  • Where greenspace matters most: A systematic review of urbanicity, greenspace, and physical health

    Research Team 

    Matthew H.E.M. Browning; Alessandro Rigolon; Olivia McAnirlin; Hyunseo (Violet) Yoon

    Project Overview

    Greenspace in urban areas may have greater protective health effects than elsewhere. Urban dwellers experience more environmental harmful exposures, attentional demands, and stressors than their suburban/rural counterparts.

    In this systematic review, we synthesize the results of studies that examined how the greenspace and health relationship varies by urbanicity. We searched for articles in April 2019 that found positive associations between greenspace and physical health. Included articles tested for effect modification by urbanicity among one or more (of eight total) outcomes relevant to health and environmental equity. We coded results as 1 = stronger association in more urban areas, −1 = stronger association in less urban areas, or 0 = no difference.

    We found 57 analyses in 37 articles that met our inclusion criteria. Among these analyses, 50.9% showed no difference, 38.6% showed a stronger association for more urban areas, and 10.5% showed a stronger association for less urban areas. More urban areas had stronger associations for cardiovascular-related, birth, and mortality outcomes and for greenspace measured within 500m.

    Stronger greenspace-health associations in more urban areas might be explained in part by the mechanistic pathways underlying these associations. Greenspace can reduce harms from environmental exposures (i.e., air pollution, noise, heat, and artificial light at night) in addition to alleviating attentional demands, reducing chronic stressors, and promoting healthy behavior - factors which might be more necessary, prevalent, or stronger in urban areas. These potential explanations warrant further investigation.

    The findings of this review inform public health policy and planning professionals who are attempting to make cities livable for all residents.

    Read the article

    Where greenspace matters most: A systematic review of urbanicity, greenspace, and physical health

  • Green Space Health Equity: A Systematic Review on the Potential of Green Space to Reduce Health Disparities

    Research Team

    Alessandro Rigolon; Matthew H.E.M. Browning; Olivia McAnirlin; Hyunseo (Violet) Yoon

    Project Overview

    Disadvantaged groups worldwide, such as low-income and racially/ethnically minoritized people, experience worse health outcomes than more privileged groups, including wealthier and white people. Such health disparities are a major public health issue in several countries around the world. In this systematic review, we examine whether green space shows stronger associations with physical health for disadvantaged groups than for privileged groups. We hypothesize that disadvantaged groups have stronger protective effects from green space because of their greater dependency on proximate green space, as they tend to lack access to other health-promoting resources. We use the preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses (PRISMA) method and search five databases (CINAHL, Cochrane, PubMed, Scopus, and Web of Science) to look for articles that examine whether socioeconomic status (SES) or race/ethnicity modify the green space-health associations. Based on this search, we identify 90 articles meeting our inclusion criteria. We find lower-SES people show more beneficial effects than affluent people, particularly when concerning public green spaces/parks rather than green land covers/greenness. Studies in Europe show stronger protective effects for lower-SES people versus higher-SES people than do studies in North America. We find no notable differences in the protective effects of green space between racial/ethnic groups. Collectively, these results suggest green space might be a tool to advance health equity and provide ways forward for urban planners, parks managers, and public health professionals to address health disparities

    Read Article

    https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/18/5/2563

  • Analytical approaches to testing pathways linking greenspace to health: A scoping review of the empirical literature

    Research Team

    Angel M. Dzhambov; Matthew H.E.M. Browning; Iana Markevych; Terry Hartig; Peter Lercher

    Project Overview

    Background

    Inadequate translation from theoretical to statistical models of the greenspace – health relationship may lead to incorrect conclusions about the importance of some pathways, which in turn may reduce the effectiveness of public health interventions involving urban greening. In this scoping review we aimed to: (1) summarize the general characteristics of approaches to intervening variable inference (mediation analysis) employed in epidemiological research in the field; (2) identify potential threats to the validity of findings; and (3) propose recommendations for planning, conducting, and reporting mediation analyses.

    Methods

    We conducted a scoping review, searching PubMed, Scopus, and Web of Science for peer-reviewed epidemiological studies published by December 31, 2019. The list of potential studies was continuously updated through other sources until March 2020. Narrative presentation of the results was coupled with descriptive summary of study characteristics.

    Results

    We found 106 studies, most of which were cross-sectional in design. Most studies only had a spatial measure of greenspace. Mental health/well-being was the most commonly studied outcome, and physical activity and air pollution were the most commonly tested intervening variables. Most studies only conducted single mediation analysis, even when multiple potentially intertwined mediators were measured. The analytical approaches used were causal steps, difference-of-coefficients, product-of-coefficients, counterfactual framework, and structural equation modelling (SEM). Bootstrapping was the most commonly used method to construct the 95% CI of the indirect effect. The product-of-coefficients method and SEM as used to investigate serial mediation components were more likely to yield findings of indirect effect. In some cases, the causal steps approach thwarted tests of indirect effect, even though both links in an indirect effect were supported. In most studies, sensitivity analyses and proper methodological discussion of the modelling approach were missing.

    Conclusions

    We found a persistent pattern of suboptimal conduct and reporting of mediation analysis in epidemiological studies investigating pathways linking greenspace to health; however, recent years have seen improvements in these respects. Better planning, conduct, and reporting of mediation analyses are warranted.

    Read the article

    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0013935120305065?via%3Dihub

  • Do sex and gender modify the association between green space and physical health? A systematic review

    Research Team 

    Delaney Sillman; Alessandro Rigolon; Matthew H.E.M. Browning; Hyunseo (Violet) Yoon; Olivia McAnirlin

    Project Overview

    A growing literature shows that green space can have protective effects on human health. As a marginalized group, women often have worse life outcomes than men, including disparities in some health outcomes. Given their marginalization, women might have “more to gain” than men from living near green spaces. Yet, limited research has deliberately studied whether green space-health associations are stronger for women or men. We conducted a systematic review to synthesize empirical evidence on whether sex or gender modifies the protective associations between green space and seven physical health outcomes (cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, general physical health, non-malignant respiratory disease, mortality, and obesity-related health outcomes). After searching five databases, we identified 62 articles (including 81 relevant analyses) examining whether such effect modification existed. We classified analyses based on whether green space-health were stronger for women, no sex/gender differences were detected, or such associations were stronger for men. Most analyses found that green space-physical health associations were stronger for women than for men when considering study results across all selected health outcomes. Also, women showed stronger protective associations with green space than men for obesity-related outcomes and mortality. Additionally, the protective green space-health associations were slightly stronger among women for green land cover (greenness, NDVI) than for public green space (parks), and women were also favored over men when green space was measured very close to one's home (0–500 m). Further, the green space-health associations were stronger for women than for men in Europe and North America, but not in other continents. As many government agencies and nongovernmental organizations worldwide work to advance gender equity, our review shows that green space could help reduce some gender-based health disparities. More robust empirical studies (e.g., experimental) are needed to contribute to this body of evidence.

    Read the article

    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0013935122001967?via%3Dihub

Virtual Reality and Nature Lab at Clemson University
Virtual Reality and Nature Lab at Clemson University | 418 Daniel Hall, Clemson University, Clemson, SC 29634-0735