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Le Monde
Le Monde
17 Feb 2024

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We all know that green spaces are good for both mental well-being and physical health. Research has shown that exposure to nature during childhood is associated with "neurocognitive and social-behavioral development, as well as on the mental and emotional well-being of children [...] lower body mass index, reduced risk of overweight or obesity, lower blood pressure and higher physical activity," as outlined by Belgian and Dutch researchers in the American monthly journal JAMA Network Open on January 4. This team also looked at the effect of greenery on bone health, studying 327 children aged four to six from the Belgian birth cohort of the Environage study (Environmental Influence on Early Aging).

The work concluded that participants with increased exposure to green spaces, such as urban gardens and parks or rural fields, within a radius of 300 meters to 3,000 meters around their primary residence, demonstrated significantly higher bone mineral density. For instance, there was a 25% increase in density for toddlers living within 500 meters of a green space, particularly in areas classified as "high," where vegetation surpasses 3 meters in height.

"It's obvious that green spaces are good for children and this study is interesting, but the results must nevertheless be taken with caution due to significant biases," said pediatric orthopedics professor Franck Accadbled, a surgeon at Toulouse University Hospital. "Firstly, the level of physical activity was not assessed; sedentary behavior was only estimated using daily screen time. Furthermore, bone density was measured non-invasively using a method that is not the gold standard, namely dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry," he added. The surgeon also co-directs an inter-university diploma in pediatrics and sport with Dr. Stéphane Tercier, a sports medicine physician at the Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland, which was launched at the Toulouse University Hospital in September 2023.

The researchers in the Belgian study opted for a radiation-free technique, calculating bone density in the forearm using quantitative ultrasound measurements. The study's authors acknowledged these limitations, also noting that they had no data on children's use of nearby residential green spaces, nor on accessibility and safety. The study pointed out that "increasing physical activity has been hypothesized to be one of the pathways underlying the beneficial health effects of green space exposure."

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