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Study uncovers surprising link between children's bone health and where they live: 'Critical periods of growth and development'

Parents should take note.

Parents should take note.

Photo Credit: iStock

Having green spaces in your community brings a wealth of benefits, including better opportunities to exercise outdoors, improved mental health, and cleaner air.

But another advantage has been revealed by scientists that should make parents pay attention.

Research published in the Environmental Health journal, shared by the JAMA Network, has detailed how living in close proximity to green spaces can improve bone density among children aged four to six years old.

"These findings highlight the importance of early-life exposure to residential green space on bone health during critical periods of growth and development, with long-term implications," the research paper concluded.

Some 327 children in the age group were studied from birth between 2014 and 2021, with each living in varied areas of Flanders in Belgium. Green space categories were determined by average vegetation height and proximity to the participants' home addresses.

Those in total green and high green spaces (within 500 meters, or about 547 yards) recorded higher bone density following an ultrasound scan.

According to the Better Health Channel, better bone density reduces the risk of osteoporosis later in life, a condition that makes bones weaker and more likely to fracture. Poor diet and exercise are among the factors that can cause osteoporosis, so having green spaces where kids can run and play would no doubt help when it comes to the latter.

Green spaces also help to reduce the impact of the heat island effect experienced in urban areas. Concrete buildings and asphalt roads absorb heat and expel it back into the surrounding atmosphere, increasing temperatures that can be uncomfortable to live in and potentially cause health problems or even death

However, trees, plants, and grasses absorb and trap heat, helping to keep the surrounding area cooler. 

Parents should take note of this factor, too, as cooler spaces will reduce reliance on air conditioning systems, which push energy bills higher because of how much power they need to run — air or heat pumps are far less energy-intensive, cheaper to power, and better for the environment. 

Green spaces also help to absorb harmful toxins from the air, including those released by dirty-fuel-powered cars. Cleaner air will reduce the risk of respiratory problems among children whose lungs are still developing. 

A study has found, for example, that traveling to school on an electric bus rather than one that runs on polluting gas or diesel reduces the risk of illnesses that lead to school absences. 

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