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Vitamin G = good health?

Most people know their Vitamin C from their Vitamin A, and importantly which foods contain them, but how many are familiar with Vitamin G?

The concept of ‘green space’ positively effecting general health and well-being will be showcased at a seminar at the University of St Andrews today (Friday 23 March 2007).

Though commonly known as riboflavin (and also B2), current European research has redefined the term Vitamin G, where ‘G’ stands for green space; in other words good old-fashioned fresh air. The concept is a familiar one in the Netherlands, where Dutch researcher and health expert Prof Peter Groenewegen is leading a pioneering research programme into the impact of green space on health, well-being and safety.

Professor Groenewegen, of the Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research, will talk on the subject at a special seminar at the University’s School of Geography and Geosciences. Professor Groenewegen’s research has already found that people living in greener areas tend to perceive their physical and mental health status as better than their counterparts living in less green areas.

Current studies of the Vitamin G research team include the use of ‘green space’ in the architectural design of hospitals and nursing homes, and ‘green referrals’, which recommend rehabilitation by physical activity in a natural environment.

He said, “Vitamin G simply stands for the green space around us. While traditional emphasis tends to focus on the negative aspects of the environment, such as pollution, previous research has found that a natural environment has a positive effect on well- being. It has long been thought that green space can have a positive effect on physical and mental health, as well as longevity, while other studies have found that views of nature can lead to decreases in aggression and crime rates.

“Our current research programme is looking at the type and amount of green space in people’s living environment, and the impact it has, from stress reduction to improved social integration.”

The Vitamin G programme is split into 3 sections, with researchers looking at the effects of natural environments, greenery in inner city neighbourhoods and the health effects of allotments. One experiment conducted recently by members of the team found that levels of physiological stress in gardeners decreased faster after a spell on the allotment, compared to another activity (reading a magazine).

“Beneficial effects of allotment gardens have been attributed to various factors, including enhanced physical activities, reduced levels of stress and mental fatigue, and a better social and cultural integration,” Professor Groenewegen explained.

Professor Groenewegen’s research covers many aspects of green space, from the differences between natural green areas to those developed in urban developments, to its impact on physical exercise. While previous research has found that people exercise longer in a natural environment, results from Vitamin G research show that people who live in a greener environment spend less time walking, particularly in more urban areas where greener neighbourhoods tend to have more parking space.

Other areas of the programme examines feelings of safety around green space. Initial findings suggest that while all age groups and women in particular feel safer in a greener environment, adolescents feel less safe in strongly urbanised areas with more green space. Especially closed green space in strongly urbanised areas is associated with less feelings of safety.

Professor Groenewegen commented, “Attractive green areas within neighbourhoods may serve as a focal point for informal social interaction, thereby strengthening social ties and cohesion, which in turn is thought to have a positive effect on wellbeing and feelings of safety. Physical exposure to cleaner air may also play a role.” It is hoped that the outcome of the four-year programme will allow researchers to influence policy in urban planning, public health and safety issues.

“Policy makers tend to view green space more as a luxury good than as a basic necessity, and appear to overlook the potentially important effects of green space on health, well-being, and safety.

“Due to increasing urbanisation, more people face the prospect of living in less green residential environments. Especially people without resources to move to greener areas outside the cities, will be affected. This may lead to environmental injustice with regard to the distribution of access to public green space,” Professor Groenewegen said.

Professor Peter Groenewegen from the Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research will deliver the lecture ‘Vitamin G: Effects of green space on health and social safety’ on Friday 23 March, at 4-5.30pm at the Irvine Lecture Theatre, University of St Andrews. The seminar is open to the public.

ENDS

For further information see: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471- 2458/6/149

NOTE TO EDITORS:

PROFESSOR GROENEWEGEN IS AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEW ON +31 30 2729668 OR TODAY VIA GAYLE COOK – CONTACT 01334 467227 / 07900 050 103.

Peter Groenewegen is Professor in Human Geography and professor in Sociology at Utrecht University of the Netherlands (where he is special chair in social and geographical aspects of health and health care). He is head of one of the three research departments at the Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research (http://www.nivel.nl/ ). NIVEL is a research foundation which is a ‘Collaborating Centre’ of the World Health Organization (WHO). Vitamin G is a four year research programme which launched in January 2005.

The current European concept of Vitamin G echoes a term developed by the Pulitzer-Prize winning Harvard scientist Edward O. Wilson – ‘biophilia’ – which refers to our biologically based affinity for natural settings. Biophilic design is utilised by those in the architectural profession who believe that access to natural light and open space (such as through windows) in the workplace, stimulates employee productivity. Its use in hospitals meanwhile is associated with faster recovery time and decreased use of strong painkillers.

Issued by Press Office, University of St Andrews

Contact Gayle Cook, Press Officer on 01334 467227 / 462529, mobile 07900 050 103, or email gec3@st- andrews.ac.uk

Ref: Vitamin G 220307.doc

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