Coastal Living benefits from Exeter University research highlighted in UK Chief Medical Officer’s Report

Posted on 29th July 2021

Research on the health benefits of coastal living will be highlighted to Government after University of Exeter experts authored a chapter for the Chief Medical Officer’s annual report. The academics warn that these benefits must not be taken for granted in the face of mounting environmental and social pressures.

Professor Chris Witty asked academics from the University’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health to write the chapter. It summarises the considerable weight of evidence that living on or near the coast benefits physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Launched today, the chapter also warns that these health benefits must not be taken for granted, as they are threatened by threatened rapid and human-generated environmental change, social and environmental inequalities, poor investment in infrastructure, and a lack of a long-term vision.

Dr Rebecca Lovell, from the University of Exeter, is lead author of the chapter. She said: “We know that living near to and spending time at the coast has health benefits, and this is an important opportunity to highlight this to Government decision-makers. We need to ensure everyone can access the coast, and that these environments are protected into the future against many of the human pressures they now face.”

In the annual report, the Chief Medical Officer presents information or ‘surveillance’ about the health of England’s population to the government. They may give recommendations to government, and individual organisations, to make improvements to the public health system.

The chapter on the benefits of coastal living summarises evidence on the contribution of the natural environment to health in coastal communities. It talks about how the coast is linked to health, through reduced exposure to environmental stressors such as air and noise pollution, facilitating more physical exercise and providing a restorative sense of relaxation, which can reduce anxiety and fatigue.

It explores the 270 million recreational visits to England’s coasts each year, and summarises the evidence around coastal nature-based social prescribing, in which time at the coast can be part of a therapeutic approach to improving wellbeing and mental health.

Much of the evidence in the report was generated by researchers at the European Centre for Environment and Human Health. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the Centre has become a world-leading institution on the links between health and the environment.

Chapter co-author Dr Ben Wheeler, of the University of Exeter, said: “We’re delighted that the evidence on the health benefits of coastal living is being included in the Chief Medical Officer’s report. It indicates that the government is really taking notice of the value of our coastlines and how they need to be protected for the benefit of everyone – we hope it now influences action.”

Read the report at https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/chief-medical-officer-annual-reports.

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