Children living near green spaces ‘have stronger bones’

Bone strength is set in childhood so better park access could prevent fractures in older people, study finds

Children gain significantly stronger bones when living near more green spaces, a study concluded, potentially leading to lifelong health benefits.

Scientists found that children living in places with 20–25% more natural areas gain stronger bones. That is equivalent to half a year’s natural growth.

The study, the first of its kind, also found that the risk of having very low bone density was about 65% lower for these children.

Bone strength grows in childhood and adolescence before plateauing until about the age of 50 and then declining. Increasing the size and accessibility of green spaces for children could therefore prevent fractures and osteoporosis in older people, the researchers said.

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Children gain stronger bones by visiting green spaces more often

The link between green spaces and stronger bones is likely to result from higher levels of physical activity in children who live near parks, as this spurs bone growth. The connection was strongest for green spaces with trees, which the scientists said may be because these were more attractive places to visit.

“The stronger the bone mass is during childhood, the more capacity you have for later in life,” said Prof. Tim Nawrot at Hasselt University in Belgium, who was part of the study team with Dr. Hanne Sleurs and others. “So the real public health message from this study is that urban planners can make the bones of children stronger, and that has long-lasting consequences.”

Previous research has found that greater access to green spaces increases physical activity in children. Studies have also discovered multiple benefits for child development, including a lower risk of being overweight, lower blood pressure, higher IQs, and better mental and emotional well-being.

As an adult, you should also keep in mind visiting gree spaces

Green spaces are also linked to better physical and mental health in adults. Woodland walks are estimated to save £185m a year in mental health costs in the UK.

The study, published in the journal JAMA Network Open, followed more than 300 children in a region of Flanders, Belgium, that included urban, suburban, and rural areas.

Scientists used ultrasound to measure the bone density of children ages four to six years old. The child’s age, weight, height, ethnicity, and their mother’s level of education were taken into account.

The results showed, for example, that children with 25% more green space within 1,000 meters of their home had a 66% lower risk of having very low bone density, i.e., being in the lowest 10% of measurements. No difference was found between the boys and the girls in the study.

The researchers said the results were important as low bone growth at a young age was as crucial to the onset of osteoporosis as bone loss through aging.

No, screentime won’t cause your child bone health to decline, but sitting at home all day will

Screen time, vitamin supplements, and daily consumption of dairy products were also tested to see if they affected the children’s results, but no significant impacts were found.

The study showed a strong association between nearby green space and bone strength in children but was not set up to show a causal link. To do that, children would need to wear accelerometers to record their physical activity. “That would not be a very easy experiment to do,” Nawrot said.

Two recent studies on bone density in adults and green spaces produced conflicting results. An analysis of 66,000 people in southwest China found a significant positive link. However, research on 4,000 people aged 65 and older in Hong Kong did not find a convincing association, possibly because Hong Kong is a very densely populated city with little green space.

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