Green spaces reduce health costs
As well as removing air pollution, there are other ways that Avon-Otakaro Forest Park can make us healthier. Green spaces reduce physical and mental health costs, and accessible green spaces and forests lower them the most.
Avon-Otakaro Forest Park improves physical health
It’s been estimated that an eco-park in the Avon River Residential Red Zone would save $50.3 million a year in health spending, based on 2013 costs. These savings are made up of:
$16.1 million from cycling
$32.7 million from walking
$1.5 million from jogging.
Money matters – but it’s not the only thing. These savings would happen because people are healthier and able to enjoy life more.
About one-third of New Zealand children are overweight, increasing their risk of diabetes, heart disease, some cancers, fatty liver disease, deep vein thrombosis, polycystic ovarian disease – and much more.
Easy, free access to ecologically sensitive exercise such as walking, running, cycling, canoeing, kayaking, and fooling around in natural playgrounds, can make Christchurch’s children more active – and help to prevent the often awful effects of obesity.
Avon-Otakaro Forest Park improves mental health
Many people don’t like talking about mental health. Yet Mental Health Foundation figures show that 14.3% of New Zealanders are diagnosed with depression and 6.1% with anxiety at some stage in their lives. Only coronary heart disease causes more health loss for New Zealanders.
The situation in post-quake Christchurch is particularly dire, with calls to police about attempted suicides almost doubling since 2011.
However, an Auckland study shows that fewer people living within 3km of green space need treatment for anxiety and mood disorders (such as depression and bipolar disorder). The further away from green space people live, the higher the rate of treatment.
The same study shows that every 1% increase in green space is associated with 4% less treatment. Large areas are better than smaller areas, and green space that’s free for people to access is the best. Increasing green space reduces pressure on healthcare facilities.
International research says the same thing. A population study in the American state of Wisconsin shows that green space, and especially tree canopy cover, decreases depression in neighbouring areas, even when taking into account issues such as income and employment. It also decreases stress and anxiety.
People from lower socioeconomic groups, who show the most symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety, have the most to gain from more trees.
On the next page: Back to nature