Planet Ark has released their newest research into the benefits of trees titled, ‘Adding Trees: A prescription for health, happiness and fulfilment.’ The report found that spending time in nature makes us “healthier, happier, brighter, calmer & closer.”
Research like this makes me feel happy because it confirms what I am trying to do with this blog is correct & that I am on the right path. Trees, green spaces, access to nature & participation in natural surroundings is most definitely a public health issue. In fact, it is a much bigger public health issue than I think is understood by many local councils in Australia. Take these incredible statistics from the report as examples.
Time in nature reduces a person’s chance of –
- developing diabetes by 43%,
- developing cardiovascular disease & stroke by 37% &
- developing depression by 25%.
Diabetes in Australia http://bit.ly/1WhzS2s says –
- “Around 1.7 million Australians have diabetes.
- 280 Australians develop diabetes every day. That’s one person every five minutes.
- The total annual cost impact of diabetes in Australia estimated at $14.6 billion.
- For every person diagnosed with diabetes there is usually a family member or carer who also ‘lives with diabetes’ every day in a support role. This means that an estimated 2.4 million Australians are affected by diabetes every day.”
The Heart Foundation http://bit.ly/25enK7N says –
- “Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a major cause of death in Australia, with 43,603 deaths attributed to CVD in Australia in 2013.
- Cardiovascular disease (heart, stroke & blood vessel diseases) kills one Australian every 12 minutes.
- CVD was the main cause for 518,563 hospitalisations in 2012/13 & played an additional role in another 680,000 hospitalisations.”
A paper by Heart Disease Research Australia http://bit.ly/29Qgs3b says –
- “In 2010 Coronary Heart Disease had a financial burden of $5.1b & a burden of disease cost of $13.3b. Total economic cost of $18.3b.
- Number of Australians dying from repeat heart attacks is expected to increase by over 40% (across all age groups) by 2020.”
The Submission to the Commission of Audit from the National Heart Foundation of Australia 2013 http://bit.ly/29N6QoD found that –
- “Physical inactivity is a major health problem in its own right.
- 54% of Australian adults are not physically active.
- Physical inactivity costs …. an estimated $1.5 billion a year, causes 16,000 premature deaths a year, increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, colon & breast cancer & is a critical factor in Australia’s obesity epidemic, with more than half of all Australian adults being overweight or obese.”
For me it is much more enjoyable to be physically active in a lovely leafy park & along leafy green streets. Improving the outlook of both our parks & streets by adding more trees to create more shade will encourage the community to walk, instead of instantly going for their air-conditioned car.
If walking can help lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, colon & breast cancer & obesity, should not the outlook of the parks & transforming the streetscapes be a priority for local councils?
Beyond Blue http://bit.ly/1gRLoHG says –
- “Depression costs the Australian economy approximately $12.6 billion per year and accounts for up to six million working days of lost productivity.” You can add further costs (monetary, lost productivity, personal & social) to others who are connected in some way to the depressed person.
If my calculations are correct the costs of just these these diseases in Australia is a minimum of $47 billion every year.
Alcohol & other drug use, often connected to depression, also has a massive financial impact in the workplace & on the economy in terms of loss of productivity, absenteeism, mistakes & accidents in the workplace. Then there are the social impacts & costs, which are vast.
If alcohol & other drug use in Australia was factored in, you could add $55.2 billion bringing the costs to a total of 102.2 billion every year.
The $55.2 billion comes from a 2008 report by Collins & Lapsley for health costs in 2004–2005. Alcohol & other drug use in Australia seems to have accelerated since then, so we could reasonably expect the costs to be higher.
I wonder how much it would cost to increase the urban forest canopy in all metropolitan suburbs that had a poor or medium canopy, install aerial bundled cabling where needed & create green leafy parks, shopping strips & small green spaces. I doubt the cost would come anywhere near $47 billion annually & most certainly not 102.2 billion every year.
Preventative health care is cheaper in the long run. If trees, beautiful streetscapes & leafy shopping strips help make the community healthier & happier, why isn’t it being done to the degree that is needed by the bulk of our local councils? To me it shows there needs to be a significant culture change toward trees in many areas in Sydney & undoubtedly in many areas in other cities. Step 1: allocate significantly more to the annual budget for trees, streetscapes & parks.
There also needs to be a culture change when it comes to getting people to want to go outdoors & spend time in nature. We live in a very fast paced world these days & the temptation to veg out watching television or playing internet games is strong.
Our kids do not have contact with nature like we did when I was a child. In the research report there is a term – “outdoor illiterate.” I think it is a brilliant way to describe the consequences for children who spend very little time outdoors.
Today I saw something unusual in that a gum boot wearing toddler was splashing around in a puddle at the markets. Her mum was enjoying watching her daughter having a good time.
The report found that children of today spend the bulk of their time inside on level floor surfaces. As a consequence of this lifestyle it has been found that “Australian children cannot walk confidently and & skillfully in outdoor environs; they are unfamiliar with uneven ground, crossing rivers or negotiating steep hilly terrain (Stone, 2009).” How sad is that. Outside is becoming an issue too with more concrete paths being added to our parks.
It makes me wonder what are the implications for children’s ability to age well? Flexibility & balance become increasingly important as one gets older. Falling due to poor balance often results in a broken hip, necessitating surgery, lengthy rehabilitation & unfortunately for many, a one way journey to live out the rest of their lives in a nursing home. Are we setting up children to have more problems earlier when they get older?
“The message is urgent: unplug, boot it down, get off-line, get outdoors, breathe again, become real in the real world.” ~ David Orr.
Not just children, but adults too. Technology is great, but not if it comes at the cost of our children not being able to walk properly & people of all ages being sick, unhappy or chronically depressed.
Living in a city is great too, but again, not if we have poor green spaces, or too few green spaces or crowded green spaces that focus on providing organized entertainment with little or no space for peaceful reflection & down time.
A May 2016 article in the Sydney Morning Herald titled, ‘Sydney’s green spaces to get squeezed as city’s population swells’ http://ow.ly/lVbw30016R7 said –
- “Over the next 15 years the amount of total open space per person in the city is expected to shrink by more than 20 per cent, from 18.3 square metres a head to 14.4 square metres by 2036.” Our courtyard is larger than this!
- “By that stage the Sydney local government area will be home to an extra 81,000 people, up from 200,000 now.” And this is just the City of Sydney.
In the mid-1990s, Pyrmont had a population of around 1,000 people. This has ballooned to more than 15,000 & the suburb is unrecognizable, at least from across the water at White Bay.
In the article, the demand for playing fields is deemed unachievable & so suggests that the way to provide what is needed is to install synthetic playing fields – so we will even lose the grass.
How the birds like magpies, galahs & little corellas who rely on these spaces will cope, I do not know, but the reality is, wildlife doesn’t feature much when local councils want to install synthetic turf. Locally, you just need to look at Arlington Reserve to see this. It all happened against fierce community opposition & at the same time as the light rail station was being built in an area where listed as ‘endangered’ Long-nosed Bandicoots were thought to live.
How did these animals cope when two green areas of habitat close to each other were being torn apart & redeveloped? I think the attitude is that birds/animals will move on, but increasingly it is becoming an issue of “where to?” The declining numbers of common native birds like the magpie is proof they are not adjusting to the loss of green space.
I don’t know about you, but a big part of my nature / green space experience is birds. I like to see them. I like to look at them & I especially like to hear them. As I ride around Marrickville & surrounds, I often pass through deadly quiet streets. There are poor street trees, or few street trees & very few trees in gardens. As a consequence, there seems to be a lack of birds. That or they are all sleeping when I ride past.
How do you keep a population happy & healthy if there is little green space & where wildlife doesn’t feature much?
I’ve already written too much & have barely touched on the findings of the report, so will post Part 2 soon. It’s a brilliant report & certainly got me thinking.