A higher ratio of green space at the county level is associated with lower racial disparity in coronavirus infection rates, according to a new study. This is the first study to report the significant relationship between the supply of green spaces and the reduction in disparity in infectious disease rates.
The research team included William Sullivan, professor of landscape architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and was led by Bin Jiang, professor of landscape architecture at the University of Hong Kong who has got his doctorate. in Illinois, and Yi Lu, professor of architecture at Hong Kong City University. They reported their findings in the newspaper International environment.
Previous studies by Sullivan, Jiang and Lu have shown that green spaces have positive effects on health. Access to green spaces is associated with improved cognitive performance, reduced mental fatigue and stress, reduced impulsivity and aggression, increased sense of security, reduced crime rate, increased physical activity and increased social cohesion.
Previous studies also provide strong evidence that green spaces can alleviate racial disparities in health. However, none examined the effect on disparities in infectious diseases. Most studies examining racial disparity in coronavirus infections have focused on its association with socioeconomic status or pre-existing chronic disease factors.
For this study, the researchers identified 135 of the most urbanized counties in the United States, with a total population of 132,350,027, or 40.3% of the American population. They collected infection data from county health departments from late January to July 10, 2020 and used it to calculate infection rates for black and white county residents, while controlling for differences in income, pre-existing chronic diseases and urban density.
Data showed that the average infection rate for black residents was more than double that of white residents – 497 per 100,000 people for whites versus 988 per 100,000 people for blacks.
The researchers compared the infection rates of each population in each county, rather than across all of the counties studied. The county-level comparison is essential because it can minimize the bias caused by differences in socio-economic conditions, transportation, climate and politics between counties, they said.
Sullivan, Jiang and Lu said several factors could explain the results. They proposed that a greater proportion of green space in a county makes it more likely that black and white people have more equal access to green space and the health benefits that come with it.
“In so many counties, black people have less access to green space than white people. In counties with more green space, this disparity may be less, and this may help explain some of the positive benefits we are seeing. ” Sullivan said.
The coronavirus is spread by aerosol particles and the spread is increased in indoor environments without adequate ventilation. Access to green spaces attracts people to the outdoors, where air circulation and ease of social distancing can reduce the spread of the virus.
Better access to green spaces is likely to promote physical activity, which can strengthen the immune system. Green spaces improve mental health and reduce stress, which also promotes healthy immune system. They strengthen social bonds, which is an important predictor of health and well-being, the researchers said. Green spaces can also reduce the risk of infection by improving air quality and decreasing exposure to air pollutants in dense urban areas.
“We haven’t measured these things, but we do know from previous research that all of these things relate to green spaces and have implications for health and wellness,” Sullivan said.
Jiang described green spaces as preventative medicine, encouraging outdoor physical activity and social bonds with neighbors that will strengthen the immune system and promote social trust and cooperation to reduce the risk of infections.
While the study looked at infection rates in the United States, “we also believe that the problem of racial disparity is not just an American problem. It is an international problem,” Jiang said.
Research shows the importance for local and regional governments to invest in green space development, Sullivan said.
“One of the things the pandemic has helped us understand is that the built environment has real implications for the spread of disease and for our health. Landscape planning in cities, neighborhoods and communities also has very important ways of contributing to or harming health and well-being, ”he said. “There is a lot of competition for the investment of public funds. Often times investments in parks and green spaces are given lower priority. People think that it makes a place pretty and that it is a place to walk. What we’re finding is these types of investments have implications for health and well-being. “