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How green spaces affect pregnancy outcomes

Green spaces found to increase birth weight, says new research. If you live near a green space, your baby will weigh more than if you lived in a concrete tenement or similar apartment complex with a view of more concrete buildings and streets. The new study, "Green Spaces and Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes" recently appears online in the journal, Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Mothers who live near green spaces deliver babies with significantly higher birth weights, says the findings.

How green spaces affect pregnancy outcomes.
Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty Images

A team of researchers from Israel and Spain, including Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), evaluated nearly 40,000 single live births from a registry birth cohort in Tel Aviv, Israel to determine the impact of green surroundings during pregnancy and birth outcomes.

"We found that that overall, an increase of surrounding greenery near the home was associated with a significant increase of birth weight and decreased risk for low birth weight," says Professor Michael Friger, according to the July 28, 2014 news release, "Green spaces found to increase birth weight -- Ben-Gurion U. researcher." Friger is with BGU's Department of Public Health. "This was the first study outside of the United States and Europe demonstrating associations between greenery and birth weight, as well as the first to report the association with low birth weight." You also may wish to check out a commentary or its abstract, "Do mothers living in greener neighborhoods have healthier babies?" It's published online since June 3, 2014 in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The abstract of the commentary on that study noted the study corroborates recent findings from the USA, Spain and Germany. In these settings, researchers have consistently found that surrounding greenness or tree-canopy cover is related to fetal growth, but that associations with pregnancy length or complications are absent or inconsistent. And while effect modification by area-level deprivation has not been addressed elsewhere, the Spanish studies report strongest relationships between surrounding greenness and birth weight for mothers.

So if you're pregnant or planning to be, being in a green or tree-canopy covered area is one holistic way to increase the birth weight of your baby and your baby's health. It's also a healthy place to be with all those trees giving off fresh oxygen and breathing in the air pollution and carbon dioxide in the environment from heavy traffic or manufacturing.

An analysis of neighborhood socioeconomics also reveals that the lowest birth weight occurred in the most economically deprived areas with lack of access to green spaces

Who lives in areas without green spaces? Unless you're talking about large urban sky scraper apartments and condos costing in the millions, most people living in tenements and apartment complexes without access to green spaces come from low-income areas because they can't afford to live in residences that have access to green spaces. And people with low incomes in deprived areas often have less affordable nutrition and exercise choices unless they work out in the green spaces of urban farming, growing their own vegetables, which gives them some access to green spaces during the spring through autumn seasons. Green spaces include public park access, not only backyards of private homes. People with backyards that are shady gardens or vegetable farms on a small scale have access to green spaces. But how are green spaces defined?

Green spaces -- parks, community gardens or even cemeteries -- were defined as land that is partly or completely covered with grass, trees, shrubs, or other vegetation. "The application of remote sensing data on surrounding green areas enabled our study to take small-scale green spaces (for example, street trees and green verges) into account, while the Open Street Map data determined the major green spaces," Friger explains, in the news release. You have some people so eager for green spaces and quietude to think or meditate that they spend an afternoon in cemeteries just to have access to being around the shade of green trees and flowers. Others may hang out in hardware or garden/nursery stores that have working fountains and trees in containers for sale on display in an outdoor garden area.

The point of this study is that if you're planning a pregnancy, also plan to have access often to green spaces, whether it's strolling through the park, assuming the park isn't mostly concrete tennis and basketball courts, or having a backyard or rooftop garden where you can stroll among green plants and trees. Beaches weren't mentioned in the study of green spaces. For those without a car and using public transportation, there needs to be more access to public parks and gardens that don't charge fees that are beyond the budget of low-income people. Not everyone around the world has access to the countryside.

Professor Friger mentored the lead researcher, Dr. Keren Agay-Shay, Center for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL), Barcelona for the study, which was the result of collaboration between researchers in Israel and Spain. The Israel Environment and Health Fund supported the study. You also may wish to check out the site, American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

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