Scottish Longitudinal Study
Development & Support Unit

Current Projects

Project Title:

Longitudinal analysis of the relationship between natural space and health in Scotland

Project Number:



Elizabeth Richardson (University of Edinburgh)
Jamie Pearce (University of Edinburgh)
Rich Mitchell (University of Glasgow)
Niamh Shortt (University of Edinburgh)

Start Date:

5 May 2015



People living in neighbourhoods with more natural space tend to have better health outcomes – such as better general and mental health, and better birth outcomes – than those with less of these spaces in their living environment (Lee and Maheswaran 2011, Donovan et al. 2011, Dadvand et al. 2012).

Much of the current work has treated all natural spaces (e.g., public parks, golf courses, and bowling greens, and sometimes private gardens) as equivalent, when in reality these have varying levels of accessibility (physical, economic and social) and are likely to have varying relevance for population health. In addition, most studies have been cross-sectional, which has limited their potential for inference about whether the relationships found are causal. If natural space and health research is to inform effective public health policies it should address questions such as specifically which types of space are beneficial for health, how the relationships vary by age group, sex, and socioeconomic status, and should ideally take a longitudinal approach.

The proposed study will use postcode-level measures of natural space availability (% by area within 100, 250 or 500 m of the place of residence or work/study), and proximity, for urban Scotland. Measures will distinguish accessibility in a general sense as well as by selected types (public parks, open water, and woodlands). These will be linked to SLS members, and members of their households, at census time (1991, 2001 and 2011), based on their place of residence and place of work/study. Using place of work/study in addition to the place of residence will give a more realistic indication of day-to-day potential encounters with natural spaces for each individual. (N.B. Although the Scotland’s Greenspace Map (SGM) data to be used apply specifically to 2009 a preliminary comparison with a 1969 dataset for Edinburgh showed only minimal change in the fine-resolution distribution of natural spaces over this 40 year period – hence our decision that it will be appropriate to apply our 2009 green space measures back to 1991.)

General health status (self-reported) will be extracted from the 2001 and 2011 Censuses. Self-reported mental health condition will be extracted from the 2011 Census. Birth outcomes will be extracted from the SMR02 Maternity database.


There is growing evidence from a range of contexts that natural spaces have benefits for various health outcomes, including general and mental health and birth outcomes. To date few studies have been conducted in Scotland, and few have considered that the health benefits might be attributable to specific types of natural space, e.g., parks, open water, or all accessible spaces combined. Additionally, very few studies have considered exposure to natural space in locations other than around the place of residence – this is a significant limitation as many people spend significant amounts of time in other locations, such as places of work or study.

This study aims to explore the relationship between natural space availability and health more fully, considering possible exposure in places of work/study and residence, and how these may have changed over time, as well as examining variations in the relationship by natural space type. Specifically the study will investigate whether an increase in exposure to natural space (a) reduces an individual’s risk of poor general health or poor mental health, and (b) reduces a mother’s risk of poor birth outcomes (low birth weight, pre-term birth and small-for-gestational-age), and will also explore whether the relationships vary by natural space type.


Dadvand, P., de Nazelle, A., Figueras, F., Basagana, X., Su, J., Amoly, E., Jerrett, M., Vrijheid, M., Sunyer, J., Nieuwenhuijsen, M.J., 2012. Green space, health inequality and pregnancy. Environment International 40, 110-115

Donovan, G.H., Michael, Y.L., Butry, D.T., Sullivan, A.D., Chase, J.M., 2011. Urban trees and the risk of poor birth outcomes. Health & Place 17, 390-393

Lee, A.C., Maheswaran, R., 2011. The health benefits of urban green spaces: a review of the evidence. J Public Health (Oxf) 33, 212-222

Related Outputs (viewable on CALLS Hub):

Explore the variables held in the SLS data dictionary.

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