This study used panel data to explore three different hypotheses about how moving to greener or less green urban areas may affect mental health over time.
It has found that moving to a greener area is not only associated with immediate improvements in people’s mental health, but that the effect continues long after they have moved.
Despite growing evidence of public health benefits from urban green space there has been little longitudinal analysis. This research used data from the British Household Panel Survey, analysing mental health data (General Health Questionnaire scores) for five consecutive years, for people who relocated to a different residential area between the second and third years (n = 1064; observations = 5,320).
Fixed-effects analyses controlled for effects from other factors likely to affect mental health over time – such as income, employment and education – as well as factors related to personality
Compared to pre-move mental health scores, individuals who moved to greener areas (n=594) had significantly better mental health in all three post-move years (P=.015; P=.016; P=.008), supporting a ‘shifting baseline’ hypothesis.
Individuals who moved to less green areas (n=470) showed significantly worse mental health in the year preceding the move (P=.031) but returned to baseline in the post-move years.
This research has shown that moving to greener urban areas is associated with sustained mental health improvements, suggesting that environmental policies to increase urban green space may have sustainable public health benefits.