Early life exposure to green space and insulin resistance: An assessment from infancy to early adolescence

Environ Int. 2020 Sep:142:105849. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2020.105849. Epub 2020 Jun 24.


Background: Recent studies suggest that greater exposure to natural vegetation, or "green space" is associated with lower diabetes risk, possibly through increasing physical activity. However, there is limited research on green space and insulin resistance in youth. We hypothesized greater green space at early-life sensitive time periods would be associated with lower insulin resistance in youth.

Methods: We used data from Project Viva (N = 460), a pre-birth cohort study that recruited pregnant women in eastern Massachusetts, 1999-2002, and followed offspring into adolescence. We defined residential green space exposure at infancy (median age - 1.1 years), early childhood (3.2 years), mid-childhood (7.7 years), and early adolescence (12.8 years), using 30 m resolution Landsat satellite imagery to estimate the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index [NDVI]. Our main outcome was early adolescence estimated insulin resistance (HOMA-IR). We used multiple imputation to account for missing data and multiple linear regression models adjusted for age, sex, race/ethnicity, parental education, household income, and neighborhood median household income.

Results: The highest green space tertile had the highest percentage of white participants (85%), college-educated mothers (87%) and fathers (85%), and households with income higher than US$70,000 (86%). Unadjusted models showed that participants living in the highest green space tertile at infancy had a 0.15 unit lower HOMA-IR (95% CI: -0.23, -0.06) in early adolescence, than those living in the lowest tertile. However, in adjusted models, we did not observe evidence of associations between green space from infancy to early adolescence and HOMA-IR in early adolescence, although some point estimates were in the hypothesized direction. For example, participants in the highest green space tertile in infancy had 0.03 units lower HOMA-IR (95%CI: -0.14, 0.08) than those living in the lowest tertile.

Conclusions: Exposure to green space at early life sensitive time periods was not associated with HOMA-IR in youth. Early-life longitudinal studies across diverse populations are needed to confirm or refute our results.

Keywords: Children’s health; Environmental epidemiology; Green space; Insulin resistance; Longitudinal data; Sensitive periods.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Massachusetts / epidemiology
  • Parks, Recreational
  • Pregnancy
  • Residence Characteristics