Benefits of nature can include savings on healthcare costs, study finds


A faculty member from Clemson University, working with researchers from the Kaiser Permanente Research Division in Northern California, found that nature’s benefits can include savings in health care costs.

The research, published March 17, 2022 in Environment International, suggests health care systems could spend hundreds of dollars less per person per year on medical care for people living in neighborhoods with the most green space. than they do for those who live near fewer trees, shrubs and grasses.

Matthew HEM Browning, assistant professor in the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management at Clemson University and director of the Clemson Virtual Reality and Nature Lab, served as co-author and principal investigator of the study.

Our study adds to the growing literature that has shown that living in greener areas is linked to beneficial short- and long-term health outcomes. The mechanisms linking nature and health are very diverse, but the benefits are thought to be partly because being in a green space can reduce stress, promote healthy behaviors and improve air quality..”

Matthew HEM Browning, Assistant Professor, Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management, Clemson University

The researchers used satellite data from the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) to determine the amount of green space within 250, 500 and 1,000 meters (820, 1,640 and 3,280 ft) of the home address of more than 5 million people who were Kaiser Permanente Northern California members for at least 2 years between 2003 and 2015. Then they used data from the Fire and Resource Assessment Program, a measure tree canopy used for fire risk management, as a second measure of green space.

Then they determined the individual care costs for each patient. The costs they used in their analysis reflected the amount spent by Kaiser Permanente, an integrated healthcare delivery system, to care for each patient, not the amount spent by each individual. In their analyses, the researchers took into account age, gender, race/ethnicity, air quality and many neighborhood characteristics such as income, level of education, density of housing and population density.

According to Stephen K. Van Den Eeden, lead author of the study and a researcher at the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research, the study found that, on average, people who lived near more green spaces were more likely to be older. , male, white, and have higher levels of income and education. But even after taking that into account, research showed that the average annual health care cost was $374 lower per person per year for those who lived near the greenest space than for those who lived near it. of the least green space.

“Our study showed that across neighborhoods there was a consistent trend between living in areas with more green space and lower health care costs,” Van Den Eeden said. “We think the results suggest that medical care spending could be hundreds of dollars more each year for people living in neighborhoods with less green space.”

Browning said the findings support ongoing public policy efforts to add more green space to residential areas and investments in urban greening for preventative health as well as all the other collateral benefits that green space has to offer. Van Den Eeden said that while the study could only show association and not causation, it was important to note that they took into account known factors that could influence the results.

“We put everything into the model that could explain the results —; demographic variables, socioeconomic variables, population density — and none of that makes the association go away,” Van Den Eeden said. “We’re about as sure of our results as you can be for this type of study.”


Journal reference:

Van Den Eeden, Sask., et al. (2022) Association between residential green coverage and direct health care costs in Northern California: an individual-level analysis of 5 million people. International environment.


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