Fifty Shades of Green: Pathway to Healthy Urban Living

Epidemiology. 2017 Jan;28(1):63-71. doi: 10.1097/EDE.0000000000000549.


Currently half the world population lives in cities, and this proportion is expected to increase rapidly to 70% over the next years. Over the years, we have created large, mostly grey cities with many high-rise buildings and little green space. Disease rates tend to be higher in urban areas than in rural areas. More green space in cities could reduce these rates. Here, we describe the importance of green space for health, and make recommendations for further research. Green space has been associated with many beneficial health effects, including reduced all-cause and cardiovascular mortality and improved mental health, possibly through mediators, such as reduced air pollution, temperature and stress, and increased physical activity, social contacts, and restoration. Additional studies are needed to strengthen the evidence base and provide further guidelines to transport planners, urban planners, and landscape architects. We need more longitudinal studies and intervention studies, further understanding of the contribution of various mechanisms toward health, and more information on susceptible populations and on where, when, how much, and what type of green space is needed. Also needed are standardized methods for green space quality assessments and evaluations of effectiveness of green prescriptions in clinical practice. Many questions are ideally suited for environmental epidemiologists, who should work with other stakeholders to address the right questions and translate knowledge into action. In conclusion, a growing evidence base supports the hypothesis that greener cities are healthier cities.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / mortality
  • Environmental Health*
  • Exercise
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Mental Health*
  • Mortality*
  • Plants
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Temperature
  • Urban Health*