Last Wednesday, May 30th, a kick-off meeting was celebrated at the Parc de Recerca Biomèdica de Barcelona as a part of the PHENOTYPE project. There, several European scientist spread the last research paths that link contact with nature and benefits for health.
This is, in fact the main aim of the PHENOTYPE project: to study the positive effects that population would get when enjoying fresh air in a natural environment.
According to the organizers of PHENOTYPE, we know these benefits but its mechanisms are still not well understood. That is why they aim at a research about the implications of the land-use planning and the green areas management from 6 workpackages dealing issues like physiopsychological responses that people have in natural environment, the role that socioeconomic status plays as for access to nature, or the relationship between nature and physical activities, stress or social relationships. Moreover, this project will involve a wide range of collaborators from the society such as NGOs, health care providers and city planners. It also purses to be a base for future political actions.
The European Commission helps with more than 3 million this research for the Phenotype Project to those entities participating, having the CREAL (Centre de Recerca en Epidemiologia Ambiental) in Barcelona a key role in it.
For Roger Torne’s Foundation, that conceives health and environment as a unique axis to work in for a better society, it is invigorating to know that our country will host this research project, and that steps are being made towards improving these two factors together with the highest scientific rigor.
The Foundation works to promote in families the habit of enjoying nature. We celebrate the fact that now, research is interested in something in something so long deducted by us: that this contact with nature can be very positive for children’s health.
The Foundation was at the kick-off meeting and will follow the PHENOTYPE closely because we are engaged with investigation. We support the CREAL research related to the INMA project and we have boosted the Professorship of Economy of Energy and Environment at University of Sevilla, which like PHENOTYPE, wants to study the impact that damaging nature would have for health and economy.
The meeting had three interventions, the first one by Dra. Hanneke Kruize, from the Public Health and Environment National Institute in the Netherlands. She spoke about socioeconomic inequailities as for access to green areas and its consequences on health.
As a starting point, Kruize highlighted the structural cause that a lower health may have in Europe, reminding that, speaking generally, differences of more than 20 years exist between different socioeconomic paces, and lifespan differences of 10 years among men and 6 among women.
Then, talking about health and environment, Kruize explained that those less-favoured groups in the 15 european countries studied had a higher noise exposition and a lower acces to green areas suchs as gardens, parks, or leisure areas, and this complicates doing exercise. About this last data, she gave examples of the Netherlands, setting this access depending on the income level. Then, she expressed that action policies should be addressed in this direction.
In addition, people living in natural areas see their economy decreasing less for health issues. This situation could drive to think that exposition to green areas could also help reduce health inequalities.
The second speech, called ‘Green areas indicators and its perception’, Dr. Michael Jarrett talked about green area and how it is mesured, with congestion, quantity and quality. A green area could buffer noise and allow social interactions.
There are hundred of categorizing systems but no universal definition about what a green area can be, which is necessary for research. Jarrett highlighted the need to involve this accessibility criteria when studying green areas, and its attractiveness. Also, new technologies now can help us register and receive feedback from how citizens use green areas.
Finally, the last speech was made by Dr. Roderick Lawrence, from University of Geneve at Switzerland, who talked about the human perspective on ecology about green areas and land-use planning.
Lawrence wanted to make a difference between ecology as a scientific concept and as a political concept, and to give a definition that considered better the importance of ecology and its multidisciplinar condition, the way it is linked to different fields.
The doctor showed examples of ecological studies that had been done with economists, sociologists, psychologists, epydemiologists, including natural sciences professionals. These studies were interested in human relationships and life quality, for instance.
For Lawrence, these last years, environment has been more and more considered when studying the health state of citizens, after focusing into other aspects like political actions or media. This influence that environment has happens both at a micro and a macro level.
Lawrence talked about some concepts related to this, like urban metabolism, resilient cities and urban health. Those concepts, clearly human, could be applied to complex ecosystems like cities are. Lawrence ended by highlighting the need to integrate diverse disciplines creatively together with ecology.