Thank you to Dr. Lauren Pinault, Statistics Canada, for providing this post.
Greenness is linked to good health
It may not surprise you to learn that living in areas that are surrounded by greenness, such as large trees, gardens, and natural vegetation, can be beneficial to our health. We have previously shown that higher levels of greenness around the home are associated with a lower risk of dying, even after taking into account things that may otherwise explain this relationship, such as socioeconomic status and background air pollution levels.1
Different reasons have been suggested as to why greenness is beneficial for health. Greenness is undeniably beautiful – and this aesthetic experience may help relieve stress and promote positive psychological health. Our research supports this, in that we found that less greenness around the home was related to poor mental health as well as psychological distress.2 Greener environments may also promote outdoor physical activity, providing spaces where recreation and community activities can take place, which can be beneficial for both mental and physical health3,4
Characterizing the disparities in exposure to greenness
Despite the clear benefits for health, greenness is not evenly distributed across the Canadian population.
Our study, Ethnocultural and socioeconomic disparities in exposure to residential greenness within urban Canada (published in Health Reports), aimed to describe inequalities in residential greenness across socioeconomic, demographic, and ethnocultural lines in urban Canada.
To accomplish this, we attached greenness estimates derived from satellite estimates to records from the 2016 Census long-form questionnaire, using postal codes to link the two data sources together.
What did we find?
Overall, greenness levels around the home were lower for people living in lower-income households, recent immigrants, younger adults, tenants, and people belonging to groups designated as visible minorities.
We also examined specific visible minority populations (an approach called “disaggregated analysis”), finding that people who identified as Filipino generally had the lowest levels of greenness around their homes. This was true even when considering household income: for example, people of Filipino ancestry in the highest income group had lower levels of greenness around their homes than the lowest-income White respondents.
We considered the role of immigration and time since arrival in Canada. Non-immigrants generally had higher levels of greenness around their homes. Among immigrants, greenness levels gradually increased over time since arrival in Canada. However, this was not the case for Chinese immigrants, for whom greenness levels remained lower than average over many decades.
It is important for us to undertake studies that examine how certain populations in Canada may receive more exposure to environmental hazards or less exposure to environmental benefits – a field of study called environmental justice. This particular study highlights how the benefit of greenness is not equally distributed in Canada along ethnocultural and socioeconomic lines – and it may also be a way in which health inequalities continue to persist. With the current COVID-19 pandemic restricting many people to activities within in their neighbourhoods, levels of greenness around the home is more critical than ever.
Dr. Lauren Pinault is a Senior Research Analyst at the Centre for Social Data Insights and Innovation, Statistics Canada, with expertise in global health, environmental health, and vector-borne disease ecology in relation to global change.
- Crouse DL, Pinault L, Balram A, Hystad P, Peters PA, Chen H, van Donkelaar A, Martin RV, Ménard R, Robichaud A, Villeneuve RJ. 2017. Urban greenness and mortality in Canada’s largest cities: a national cohort study. Lancet Planetary Health. 1: e289-97.
- Crouse DL, Pinault L, Christidis T, Lavigne E, Thomson EM, Villeneuve PJ. 2021. Residential greenness and indicators of stress and mental well-being in a Canadian national-level survey. Environmental Research. 192: 110267.
- Jennings V, Gaither CJ, Gragg RS. 2012. Promoting environmental justice through urban green space access: a synopsis. Environmental Justice. 5(1): 1-7.
- Grigsby-Toussaint DS, Chi S-H, Fiese BH. 2011. Where they live, how they play: neighborhood greenness and outdoor physical activity among preschoolers. International Journal of Health Geographics. 10: 66.