Forests, health and inequalities in Scotland: a longitudinal analysis using linked administrative data
Thomson, J., Pearce, J., Shortt, N. & Ward Thompson, C. (2017) UK Administrative Data Research Network Annual Research Conference, Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh, UK, 1 - 2 June 2017 [SLS]
Studies suggest that living near forests is linked to reduced stress, improved mood and enhanced quality of life. Evidence also suggests that having better access to forests may be particularly beneficial to those of low socioeconomic position. Therefore forests may have a role in reducing health inequalities. This study examined associations between forests and health in Scotland over a 20-year-period. In particular the project investigated whether changes in individual's access to forests were associated with changes in health status; and whether people who had lived near forests throughout life had better mental health in later life. The study also explored whether associations varied by social group. Data for all forests in Scotland were created. These were linked to the Scottish Longitudinal Study (SLS) which provided data on 113,171 people living in Scotland for three time points: 1991, 2001 and 2011. Administrative records for the SLS members including the Prescribing Information system and Mental Health Inpatient and Outpatient data sets were also linked. Outcome measures included having a long term limiting illness, receiving hospital treatment for a mental health issue and being prescribed anti-depressant or anxiolytic medication. Preliminary findings showed that people living 250m-1km from a forest were significantly more likely to have a long term limiting illness compared to those living closest (<250m) to a forest. When stratified by area-level income deprivation, this relationship was only significant for those in the 2nd most deprived group. This initial findings from this study show that the health benefits associated with forests in Scotland are likely to be uneven across the population.