Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Exposure to Greenness and Mortality in a Nationwide Prospective Cohort Study of Women

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Exposure to Greenness and Mortality in a Nationwide Prospective Cohort Study of Women

Article excerpt


The biophilia hypothesis suggests that human beings have evolved to prefer certain natural environments that are essential to their thriving (Wilson 1984). Researchers are increasingly exploring how neighborhood greenness, or vegetation, may affect health behaviors and outcomes (Hartig et al. 2014; James et al. 2015a). Empirical research suggests that greenness may reduce obesity and promote physical activity (Lachowycz and Jones 2011) as well as improve cardiovascular health (Pereira et al. 2012), mental health (Alcock et al. 2014; Gascon et al. 2015), and birth outcomes (Hystad et al. 2014). Greenness has been hypothesized to benefit health by lowering exposure to air pollution, extreme heat, and noise; by increasing opportunities for physical activity; by providing a location for social engagement; and by decreasing psychological stress and depression through direct contact with nature (Hartig et al. 2014; Hystad et al. 2014; Taylor et al. 2015).

Evidence suggests that exposure to greenness may lower mortality rates, although many of these studies relied on aggregated data (Jonker et al. 2014; Lachowycz and Jones 2014; Richardson et al. 2010; Richardson and Mitchell 2010), which limit inferences about the effect of greenness on individual health. Many mortality studies relied on cross-sectional data and could not estimate exposure over time (Hu et al. 2008; Mitchell and Popham 2008), whereas others could not account for important potential confounding by race/ethnicity, individual-level smoking, and area-level socioeconomic factors such as median home value (Takano et al. 2002; Villeneuve et al. 2012). Some studies have observed contradictory findings. One ecological study conducted on the city level found that all-cause mortality was higher in greener cities (Richardson et al. 2012). An ecological analysis across the entire United Kingdom found that higher greenness was associated with lower cardiovascular and respiratory mortality among males; however, no significant associations were found among women (Richardson and Mitchell 2010). A recent analysis of greenness and mortality in male and female stroke survivors living in the Boston area found that greater exposure to greenness was associated with higher survival rates (Wilker et al. 2014). To our knowledge, no study has examined time-varying greenness and mortality in a nationwide prospective cohort of women while accounting for important potential confounding factors and addressing potential mediators. Our objective was to examine the association between greenness and all-cause mortality, as well as cause-specific mortality, in a large prospective study of women across the entire contiguous United States. We hypothesized that higher levels of surrounding greenness would be associated with lower rates of all-cause, cancer, respiratory, and cardiovascular mortality; that these associations would differ by mortality cause; and that findings would support mediation by air pollution, physical activity, social engagement, and mental health.



The Nurses' Health Study (NHS) is a prospective cohort study assessing risk factors for chronic disease among women. In 1976, 121,701 female registered nurses (30-55 years old) from 11 states (California, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas) returned an initial questionnaire, which ascertained a variety of health-related exposures and medical diagnoses. The cohort has been continuously followed with biennial questionnaires. Response rates at each questionnaire cycle have consistently been [greater than or equal to] 90% (calculated as the number of women who successfully returned a questionnaire in each cycle among the women who were still alive). Residential addresses from the 2000-2008 questionnaires were matched (geocoded) to obtain latitude and longitude. Approximately 90% of all addresses were successfully matched to the street segment level (within a range of house numbers along one side of the street). …

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