Mounting Literature Documents Potential Human Health Benefits of Forests and Green Spaces. U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, Greenville, SC
Add human health and well-being to the long list of benefits provided by forests. A new bibliography compiled by Paul Garbe, DVM, MPH, cites more than 30 publications and web resources that document potential physical and mental health benefits associated with trees and forests. Several resources note the complexity of correlating health with green space and call for additional work to clarify potential benefits. The bibliography is available on the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities (Endowment) website.
Garbe directed the program on air pollution and respiratory health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2004 to 2018 and is now a private consultant. The Endowment and the USDA Forest Service, Region 8 (Southern Region) office, commissioned the project. Both organizations seek to understand and clarify the benefits provided by forests.
“Forests provide many benefits and services, including wood for construction, fiber for paper and cardboard, energy, filtration for drinking water, climate regulation, habitat for wildlife, and recreation places,” said Carlton Owen, the Endowment’s CEO. “Now scientists are helping us understand how being in and near forests and trees can be good for our health and well-being. We hope this bibliography will stimulate interest in better understanding the human health benefits provided by trees and forests.”
Many of the studies focus on the air-quality impacts of trees and forests. One study suggests that nitrogen dioxide removed by trees in Portland, Oregon reduced respiratory problems. In contrast, another found no scientific consensus that urban trees reduce asthma by improving air quality and, in some circumstances, can degrade air quality and increase asthma. It issued a "call to action" for interdisciplinary research on the human health effects of spending time in or near green spaces. Other sources cited in the bibliography address mental health and well-being and crime reduction.
While Owen emphasized the importance of following CDC social distancing guidelines in a world shaken by COVID-19, he believes that "...recreation in forests is one of the most effective ways we can lower stress and anxiety, while at the same time enjoying a pleasant and positive experience.”
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