Are people healthier when they live closer to forests? A longitudinal study of Scotland
Thomson, J. (2018) CALLS Hub conference, University of St Andrews, UK, 23 March 2018 [SLS]
International evidence demonstrates that visiting or viewing forests is linked to better health. Proposed mechanisms include the opportunities for physical activity, reduced stress and social interaction which forests can provide. Studies also suggest that forests may have a role in reducing health inequalities by weakening the links between low socioeconomic status and poor health. However, the evidence to date relies on cross-sectional analyses, which limits our understanding of potential causal effects. This study investigated associations between access to forests and general health through time. It was also assessed whether visiting forests explained the relationship. Lastly, differences by demographic and socioeconomic groups were examined. Measures of forest access in 1991, 2001 and 2011 and a synthetic estimate of forest use were linked to the Scottish Longitudinal Study (SLS) which contains census data for a semi-random sample of the population (5.3%). The current study included adults aged 18+ years in 1991 who were present in the last 3 censuses (n=97,658). Statistical techniques included hybrid-effects models and a mediation analysis. Findings indicated that living closer to forests may be beneficial for health by enabling greater use of forests for recreation. However improvements in forest access did not improve health. Those interested in reducing health inequalities may consider improving forest access whilst addressing other barriers to visiting, particularly for low socioeconomic groups.