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Childhood exposure to green space ‘may help’ brain development

A new study by Barcelona Institute for Global Health, Hospital del Mar and UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health, says being raised in a greener neighbourhood can benefit a child’s developing brain.  

Around 250 children participated in the study which found primary school children raised in homes with lots of green areas around them tend to have larger volumes of white and grey matter in certain areas of the brain. Those anatomic differences are in turn associated with beneficial effects on cognitive function.

The research

The study is part of a BREATHE project in Barcelona, Spain, which aims to study the impact of air pollution in cities on the cognitive development of children. The data analysis showed that long-term exposure to green-ness was positively associated with higher scores on cognitive tests, better working memory and reduced inattentiveness.

“This is the first study that evaluates the association between long-term exposure to greenspace and brain structure,” says Dr. Payam Dadvand, lead author of the study and a researcher at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal). “Our findings suggest that exposure to green space early in life could result in beneficial structural changes in the brain.”

‘Growing evidence’

“The study adds to growing evidence suggesting that early life exposure to green space and other environmental factors can exert measurable and lasting effects on our health through the life course,” adds co-author Michael Jerrett, department chair and professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

A previous study of 2,593 children ages 7 to 10 also from the BREATHE project showed that, during the 12-month course of the study, children who attended schools with higher outdoor green space had a greater increase in working memory and a greater reduction in inattentiveness than children who attended schools with less surrounding greenness.


Dadvand P., Pujol, J., Macià D., Martínez-Vilavella G., Blanco-Hinojo L., Mortamais M. Álvarez-Pedrerol M., Fenoll R., Esnaola M., Dalmau-Bueno A., López-Vicente M., Basagaña X., Jerrett M., Nieuwenhuijsen M., Sunyer J. The Association between Lifelong Greenspace Exposure and 3-Dimensional Brain Magnetic Resonance Imaging in Barcelona Schoolchildren. Environmental Health Perspectives, February 2018,

Author: Julia Zvobgo

Julia Zvobgo is a Cultural Anthropologist. She is also the Community Manager and Events Manager of Child in the City.

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