The Effects of Greenspace Exposure on Childhood Development

Multiple studies have found that exposure to “greenspace” such as parks and forests has benefits to early childhood development. Some of these benefits include fewer behavioral problems, improved memory, and even better academic performance. However, the root explanations as to why these benefits happen are still not entirely clear. A new study by Jarvis et al. (2021) followed nearly 30,000 children in the metropolitan area of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada from birth through kindergarten to determine the effects of exposure to greenspace, air pollution, and noise pollution on early childhood development. To measure development, the researchers used teacher ratings via a score called the Early Development Instrument (EDI), widely used across Canada. Greenspace exposure was estimated using the mean annual normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) in the children’s postal codes, derived from Landsat and PlanetScope data. NDVI data was made accessible to the researchers via the Canadian Urban Environmental Health Research Consortium (CANUE). Jarvis et al.’s study results found a weak positive association between greenspace exposure and early childhood development. This appears to be tied to reductions in both noise and air pollution, which previous studies have shown can impact cognitive function in young children. “Although our estimated effect of greenspace exposure on EDI scores is small,” the authors say in their paper, “our findings agree with studies that indicate a positive influence of greenspace on child development outcomes.”  

The full study is open access can be found in Lancet Planet Health.

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