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Green Neighborhoods Boost Positive Pregnancy Outcomes

Update Date: Sep 05, 2014 07:10 PM EDT

Living in green neighborhoods with plenty of grass and trees or other plants increases expectant mothers' likelihood of delivering full-term and heavier babies than those who live in urban areas.

Researchers said the findings held true after accounting for neighborhood income, exposure to air pollution, noise, and neighborhood walkability.

"This was a surprise," lead author Perry Hystad, an environmental epidemiologist in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State, said in a news release. "We expected the association between greenness and birth outcomes to disappear once we accounted for other environmental exposures such as air pollution and noise. The research really suggests that greenness affects birth outcomes in other ways, such as psychologically or socially."

The study, which involved data from more than 64,000, revealed that very pre-term births were 20 percent lower and moderate pre-term births were 13 percent lower for infants whose mothers in neighborhoods with plenty of green vegetation.

The study also revealed that infants from greener neighborhoods were significantly less likely to be underweight. In fact, infants from greener neighborhoods weight on average 45 grams more at birth than those from urban areas.

"From a medical standpoint, those are small changes in birth weight, but across a large population, those are substantial differences that would have a significant impact on the health of infants in a community," Hystad said.

"We know a lot about the negative influences such as living closer to major roads, but demonstrating that a design choice can have benefits is really uplifting," senior author Michael Brauer of the University of British Columbia, said in a news release. "With the high cost of healthcare, modifying urban design features such as increasing green space may turn out to be extremely cost-effective strategies to prevent disease, while at the same time also providing ecological benefits."

"We know green space is good. How do we maximize that benefit to improve health outcomes?" Hystad said. "The answer could have significant implications for land use planning and development."

The findings were published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

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