New research out of Oregon State University (OSU) shows that moms who live in greener neighborhoods may have better birth outcomes. The OSU researchers, who also worked on this study with researchers at the University of British Columbia, found that mothers living in neighborhoods with plenty of grass, trees or other green vegetation (collectively known as “green spaces”) were more likely to deliver at full term and have babies born with higher birth weights, as compared to mothers who lived in predominantly less green, urban areas. Amazingly, these new findings held up even when results were adjusted for factors such as neighborhood income, exposure to air pollution, noise, and neighborhood walkability, which goes to show you just how important green spaces are for healthy humans. Perry Hystad, an environmental epidemiologist in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State and lead author of the study was surprised by the study, noting, “We expected the association between greenness and birth outcomes to disappear once we accounted for other environmental exposures such as air pollution and noise. The research really suggests that greenness affects birth outcomes in other ways, such as psychologically or socially.”
The map you see above shows variations in greenness in the Vancouver, British Columbia, area. The OSU researchers found better birth outcomes for babies whose mothers lived in the greenest parts of the city shown on the map. The large-scale study included more than 64,000 births, and statistically the researchers found that very pre-term births were 20% lower and moderate pre-term births were 13% lower when moms-to-be lived in greener neighborhoods. Babies born to moms in greener areas also weighed 45 grams more at birth than infants from less green neighborhoods, Hystad said. Researchers aren’t sure yet where the link between greenness and birth outcome is, but we have seen studies like this before, so it’s no surprise green spaces are beneficial for pregnant women and their babies. Past studies show that air pollution in urban spaces is linked to low birth weights and autism. Additionally, research shows that city dwelling moms are more likely to develop postpartum depression.
The new study notes that additional research is needed to determine if green space provides more social opportunities or perhaps enhances a person’s sense of belonging in the community, or if green spaces have a positive psychological effect on women, thus reducing stress and depression and in turn making for a healthier overall pregnancy. It’s unclear just how much green space is needed to grow a healthy baby, but the researchers do note that size is likely a big factor, stating that simply adding a planter to the patio or a tree to the sidewalk median probably won’t make a significant difference in birth outcomes. “Planting one tree likely won’t help,” Hystad said. “You don’t really see the beneficial effects of green space until you reach a certain threshold of greenness in a neighborhood.” Currently the researchers are taking their findings one step further, looking at how green spaces can be maximized for better birth outcomes, as the answer may hold significant implications for land use planning and development.