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Natural and Built Outdoor Environments and Children’s Health

A special issue of International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (ISSN 1660-4601). This special issue belongs to the section "Environmental Health".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 June 2023) | Viewed by 19348

Special Issue Editors


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Guest Editor
Virtual Reality & Nature (VRN) Lab, Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management, Clemson University, Clemson, SC 29631, USA
Interests: environmental epidemology, restorative environments, green space, blue space, environmental psychology, urban greening, mental health, cognitive performance, systematic reviews, virtual reality
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals

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Guest Editor
Institute of Psychology, Jagiellonian University, 30-060 Krakow, Poland
Interests: greenspace, air pollution and other place-related exposures; childhood health, especially, mental health, ADHD and allergic outcomes

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Co-Guest Editor
Department of Hygiene and Ecomedicine, Faculty of Public Health, Medical University of Plovdiv, 4002 Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Interests: environmental and occupational epidemiology; health effects of traffic noise and natural outdoor environments; mediation and conditional process analyses; systematic reviews and meta-analyses
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals

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Co-Guest Editor

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

We are organizing a Special Issue on the impact of built and natural environments on children's health in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. This venue is a peer-reviewed scientific journal that publishes research in the interdisciplinary area of environmental health sciences and public health. For detailed information on the journal, please visit https://www.mdpi.com/journal/ijerph.

Physical, mental, and social health are important considerations for many urban planners and policy-makers. Exposures in early childhood and through adolescent development set trajectories for risks of disease and illness in adulthood. Despite the importance of childhood exposures to lifelong health, they remain less studied and more poorly understood than adulthood exposures.

Countless attributes of childhood environments can impact lifelong health. Of particular interest are the effects of neighborhood socio-demographics, green spaces, fresh food availability, social services such as post offices and churches, street connectivity and walkability, and public transportation systems. Additional research in urban and rural settings and developing and developed countries will better guide policy efforts and planning for children's health.

This Special Issue is open to submissions that study how environmental exposures affect health from conception through childhood and young adulthood. Especially welcome are studies of the exposome—the combined effects of at least two exposures—and life-course epidemiology frameworks. The supplemental keywords suggest just a few of the many possibilities.

Dr. Iana Markevych
Dr. Matthew Browning
Guest Editors
Dr. Angel Dzhambov
Prof. Dr. Peter Lercher
Co-Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 2500 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • pregnancy
  • early life
  • children
  • adolescents
  • teenagers
  • neighborhood
  • built environment
  • walkability
  • pedestrian paths
  • land use mix
  • facility access
  • street connectivity
  • obesogenic environment
  • healthy food access
  • bikeability
  • bike lanes
  • public transportation
  • nature
  • green infrastructure
  • green spaces
  • greenness
  • tree cover
  • playgrounds
  • community gardens
  • blue spaces
  • restorative quality
  • urbanicity
  • air pollution
  • traffic noise
  • brain development
  • cognition
  • behavioral outcomes
  • mood disorders
  • emotion regulation
  • academic achievement
  • creativity
  • unstructured play
  • mindfulness
  • eating disorders
  • autism
  • sleep quantity and quality
  • low-grade chronic inflammation
  • microbiome
  • social support/cohesion/interaction
  • screen time
  • suicide/suicide risk
  • health disparities

Published Papers (8 papers)

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Research

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22 pages, 652 KiB  
Article
Changes in Residential Greenspace and Birth Outcomes among Siblings: Differences by Maternal Race
by Samantha Gailey
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2023, 20(18), 6790; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph20186790 - 21 Sep 2023
Viewed by 1073
Abstract
Growing research investigates the perinatal health benefits of greenspace in a mother’s prenatal environment. However, evidence of associations between residential greenspace and birth outcomes remains mixed, limiting the relevance this work holds for urban policy and greening interventions. Past research relies predominantly on [...] Read more.
Growing research investigates the perinatal health benefits of greenspace in a mother’s prenatal environment. However, evidence of associations between residential greenspace and birth outcomes remains mixed, limiting the relevance this work holds for urban policy and greening interventions. Past research relies predominantly on cross-sectional designs that are vulnerable to residential selection bias, and rarely tests effect modification by maternal race/ethnicity, which may contribute to heterogeneous findings. This study uses a rigorous, longitudinal sibling comparison design and maternal fixed effect analyses to test whether increases in maternal exposure to residential greenspace between pregnancies precede improved birth outcomes among non-Hispanic (NH) white (n = 247,285) and Black (n = 54,995) mothers (mean age = 28 years) who had at least two consecutive live births in California between 2005 and 2015. Results show that increases in residential greenspace correspond with higher birthweight (coef. = 75.49, 95% CI: 23.48, 127.50) among Black, but not white (coef. = −0.51, 95% CI: −22.90, 21.90), infants. Additional analyses suggest that prior evidence of perinatal benefits associated with residential greenspace among white mothers may arise from residential selection; no such bias is observed for Black mothers. Taken together, these findings support urban greening initiatives in historically under-resourced neighborhoods. Efforts to evenly distribute residential greenspace may reduce persistent racial disparities in birth outcomes, an important step towards promoting health equity across the life course. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Natural and Built Outdoor Environments and Children’s Health)
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16 pages, 9231 KiB  
Article
Gardening in Childcare Centers: A Randomized Controlled Trial Examining the Effects of a Garden Intervention on Physical Activity among Children Aged 3–5 Years in North Carolina
by Nancy M. Wells, Nilda Graciela Cosco, Derek Hales, Muntazar Monsur and Robin C. Moore
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2023, 20(11), 5939; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph20115939 - 24 May 2023
Viewed by 1612
Abstract
This study examined the effects of a childcare gardening intervention on children’s physical activity (PA). Eligible childcare centers were randomly assigned to: (1) garden intervention (n = 5; year 1); (2) waitlist control (n = 5; control year 1, intervention year [...] Read more.
This study examined the effects of a childcare gardening intervention on children’s physical activity (PA). Eligible childcare centers were randomly assigned to: (1) garden intervention (n = 5; year 1); (2) waitlist control (n = 5; control year 1, intervention year 2); or (3) control (n = 5; year 2 only) groups. Across the two-year study, PA was measured for 3 days at four data collection periods using Actigraph GT3X+ accelerometers. The intervention comprised 6 raised fruit and vegetable garden beds and a gardening guide with age-appropriate learning activities. The sample included a total of 321 3–5-year-olds enrolled in childcare centers in Wake County, North Carolina, with n = 293 possessing PA data for at least one time point. The analyses employed repeated measures linear mixed models (SAS v 9.4 PROC MIXED), accounting for clustering of the children within the center and relevant covariates (e.g., cohort, weather, outside days, accelerometer wear). A significant intervention effect was found for MVPA (p < 0.0001) and SED minutes (p = 0.0004), with children at intervention centers acquiring approximately 6 min more MVPA and 14 min less sedentary time each day. The effects were moderated by sex and age, with a stronger impact for boys and the youngest children. The results suggest that childcare gardening has potential as a PA intervention. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Natural and Built Outdoor Environments and Children’s Health)
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14 pages, 2021 KiB  
Article
Elementary Classroom Views of Nature Are Associated with Lower Child Externalizing Behavior Problems
by Amber L. Pearson, Catherine D. Brown, Aaron Reuben, Natalie Nicholls, Karin A. Pfeiffer and Kimberly A. Clevenger
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2023, 20(9), 5653; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph20095653 - 26 Apr 2023
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 3376
Abstract
Exposure to nature views has been associated with diverse mental health and cognitive capacity benefits. Yet, much of this evidence was derived in adult samples and typically only involves residential views of nature. Findings from studies with children suggest that when more greenness [...] Read more.
Exposure to nature views has been associated with diverse mental health and cognitive capacity benefits. Yet, much of this evidence was derived in adult samples and typically only involves residential views of nature. Findings from studies with children suggest that when more greenness is available at home or school, children have higher academic performance and have expedited attention restoration, although most studies utilize coarse or subjective assessments of exposure to nature and largely neglect investigation among young children. Here, we investigated associations between objectively measured visible nature at school and children’s behavior problems (attention and externalizing behaviors using the Brief Problem Monitor Parent Form) in a sample of 86 children aged seven to nine years old from 15 classrooms across three schools. Images of classroom windows were used to quantify overall nature views and views of specific nature types (sky, grass, tree, shrub). We fitted separate Tobit regression models to test associations between classroom nature views and attention and externalizing behaviors, accounting for age, sex, race/ethnicity, residential deprivation score, and residential nature views (using Google Street View imagery). We found that higher levels of visible nature from classroom windows were associated with lower externalizing behavior problem scores, after confounder adjustment. This relationship was consistent for visible trees, but not other nature types. No significant associations were detected for attention problems. This initial study suggests that classroom-based exposure to visible nature, particularly trees, could benefit children’s mental health, with implications for landscape and school design. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Natural and Built Outdoor Environments and Children’s Health)
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12 pages, 6660 KiB  
Article
Understanding Connections between Nature and Stress among Conservation-Engaged Adolescents Using Photovoice Methodology
by Kim Hartley, Jonelle Prideaux and Lisa M. Vaughn
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2023, 20(5), 4280; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph20054280 - 28 Feb 2023
Viewed by 1211
Abstract
While the literature supports positive associations between nature and adolescent mental health, mechanisms are not well understood, and assessment of nature varies widely among existing studies. To partner with the most insightful informants, we enrolled eight adolescent participants from a conservation-informed summer volunteer [...] Read more.
While the literature supports positive associations between nature and adolescent mental health, mechanisms are not well understood, and assessment of nature varies widely among existing studies. To partner with the most insightful informants, we enrolled eight adolescent participants from a conservation-informed summer volunteer program, applying qualitative photovoice methodology to understand their use of nature to relieve stress. Across five group sessions, participants identified four themes: (1) Nature shows us different aspects of beauty; (2) nature helps us relieve stressful experiences by balancing our senses; (3) nature gives us space to find solutions; and (4) we want to find time to enjoy nature. At the conclusion of the project, youth participants reported that the research experience was overwhelmingly positive, enlightening, and inspired appreciation of nature. We found that, while our participants unanimously reported that nature relieved their stress, prior to this project, they were not always intentional in seeking time in nature for this purpose. Through the photovoice process, these participants noted the usefulness of nature for stress relief. We conclude with recommendations for leveraging nature to decrease adolescent stress. Our findings are relevant for families, educators, students, healthcare professionals, and anyone who works with or cares for adolescents. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Natural and Built Outdoor Environments and Children’s Health)
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16 pages, 428 KiB  
Article
Residential Proximity to Urban Play Spaces and Childhood Overweight and Obesity in Barcelona, Spain: A Population-Based Longitudinal Study
by Nacho Sánchez-Valdivia, Carmen Pérez-del-Pulgar, Jeroen de Bont, Isabelle Anguelovski, Antonio López-Gay, Andrea Pistillo, Margarita Triguero-Mas and Talita Duarte-Salles
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2022, 19(20), 13676; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph192013676 - 21 Oct 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 2041
Abstract
Findings on the relationship between play spaces and childhood overweight and obesity are mixed and scarce. This study aimed to investigate the associations between residential proximity to play spaces and the risk of childhood overweight or obesity and potential effect modifiers. This longitudinal [...] Read more.
Findings on the relationship between play spaces and childhood overweight and obesity are mixed and scarce. This study aimed to investigate the associations between residential proximity to play spaces and the risk of childhood overweight or obesity and potential effect modifiers. This longitudinal study included children living in the city of Barcelona identified in an electronic primary healthcare record database between 2011 and 2018 (N = 75,608). Overweight and obesity were defined according to the WHO standards and we used 300 m network buffers to assess residential proximity to play spaces. We calculated the risk of developing overweight or obesity using Cox proportional hazard models. A share of 29.4% of the study population developed overweight or obesity, but we did not find consistent associations between play space indicators and overweight or obesity. We did not find any consistent sign of effect modification by sex, and only some indications of the modifying role of area socioeconomic status and level of exposure. Although it is not possible to draw clear conclusions from our study, we call for cities to continue increasing and improving urban play spaces with an equitable, healthy, and child-friendly perspective. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Natural and Built Outdoor Environments and Children’s Health)
18 pages, 1428 KiB  
Article
Considering Autonomous Exploration in Healthy Environments: Reflections from an Urban Wildscape
by Sarah Little and Art Rice
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2021, 18(22), 11867; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph182211867 - 12 Nov 2021
Viewed by 1797
Abstract
Autonomous exploration should be considered in the creation of healthy environments since autonomy is an important developmental experience for children. For a group of boys in Raleigh, N.C., U.S. during the period 2002–2006, autonomous exploration was a meaningful experience. Results of a qualitative [...] Read more.
Autonomous exploration should be considered in the creation of healthy environments since autonomy is an important developmental experience for children. For a group of boys in Raleigh, N.C., U.S. during the period 2002–2006, autonomous exploration was a meaningful experience. Results of a qualitative research project (n = 5) which highlight the importance of autonomous exploration are organized within a proposed framework for thick description. The framework creates verisimilitude by reporting on the context, social action and cultural context, and behavior and intentionality. The context of Raleigh and urban wildscapes furnished areas ripe for exploration. The social action and cultural context of attachment supported the autonomous exploration through scaffolded experiences of autonomy. The intentionality of the behavior was a desire to distinct themselves through a focus on individual development and the pursuit of extraordinary experiences. The ultimate outcomes of autonomous exploration for the boys were the development of long-term, intimate friendships and confidence in their decision-making ability. As cities become more health-focused, attention should be paid to preserve the rough edges of a city for children to explore. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Natural and Built Outdoor Environments and Children’s Health)
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16 pages, 451 KiB  
Article
Impact of Residential Green Space on Sleep Quality and Sufficiency in Children and Adolescents Residing in Australia and Germany
by Xiaoqi Feng, Claudia Flexeder, Iana Markevych, Marie Standl, Joachim Heinrich, Tamara Schikowski, Sibylle Koletzko, Gunda Herberth, Carl-Peter Bauer, Andrea von Berg, Dietrich Berdel and Thomas Astell-Burt
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020, 17(13), 4894; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17134894 - 07 Jul 2020
Cited by 24 | Viewed by 4641
Abstract
Increasing evidence suggests adults living in greener areas tend to have more favourable sleep-related outcomes, but children and adolescents are under-researched. We hypothesised that children and adolescents living in greener areas would have better quality and more sufficient levels of sleep on average, [...] Read more.
Increasing evidence suggests adults living in greener areas tend to have more favourable sleep-related outcomes, but children and adolescents are under-researched. We hypothesised that children and adolescents living in greener areas would have better quality and more sufficient levels of sleep on average, especially within the context of high traffic noise exposure. These hypotheses were tested using multilevel logistic regressions fitted on samples from the nationally representative Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (10–11 years old, n = 3469, and 14–15 years old, n = 2814) and the GINIplus and LISA cohorts (10 years old, n = 1461, and 15 years old, n = 4172) from the Munich, Wesel, and Leipzig areas of Germany. Questionnaire-based binary indicators of sleep sufficiency and sleep quality in each cohort were assessed with respect to objectively measured green space exposures adjusting for age, sex, and maternal education. Models were augmented with proxy measures of traffic noise and two-way interaction terms to test for effect modification. Cross-tabulations illustrated little convincing evidence of association between green space and insufficient sleep or poor sleep quality in either sample, except for insufficient sleep among 10 year old participants in Germany. These null findings were replicated in adjusted models. The proxy for traffic noise was associated with poor quality sleep in 15 year old participants in Germany, but no convincing evidence of modified association with green space was observed. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Natural and Built Outdoor Environments and Children’s Health)
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Review

Jump to: Research

22 pages, 646 KiB  
Review
A Systematic Review of Mechanisms Underpinning Psychological Change Following Nature Exposure in an Adolescent Population
by Megan Rowley, Raluca Topciu and Matthew Owens
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2022, 19(19), 12649; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph191912649 - 03 Oct 2022
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 2160
Abstract
This systematic review aimed to identify mechanisms of psychological change following exposure to nature within an adolescent population. Keyword searches within Scopus, PsychINFO and Web of Science were carried out to include articles published by 14 September 2021. Records were reviewed in line [...] Read more.
This systematic review aimed to identify mechanisms of psychological change following exposure to nature within an adolescent population. Keyword searches within Scopus, PsychINFO and Web of Science were carried out to include articles published by 14 September 2021. Records were reviewed in line with inclusion criteria: samples with an average age of 24 and under, exposure to nature vs. control using an experimental or quasi-experimental design and outcomes of mental health and psychological status. The review resulted in 27 papers that were assessed for methodological quality and manually searched for mediation analyses. A range of psychological outcomes were identified and grouped into 10 categories: Mood and Affect, Mental Health, Wellbeing, Perceived Restoration, Stress, Energy, Cognitive Functioning, Resilience, Self-Concept and Pro-Social Behaviour. Only one formal mediation analysis was reported, highlighting a mediating role of belonging in increases in resilience. Limitations include the majority use of university student samples and over half of the papers being of low methodological quality. No firm conclusions on key mechanisms in an adolescent population were made due to insufficient evidence of mediating variables. The development of methodologically rigorous experimental studies with the inclusion of statistical pathway modelling is needed to test and specify plausible mechanisms. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Natural and Built Outdoor Environments and Children’s Health)
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