‘Develop their full potential’: Green spaces give kids’ IQs a boost

'Greener spaces grow brighter minds': Children raised in greener urban areas have higher IQs, study finds

Pixabay/Victoria Borodinova

Parks in cities do more than beautify them. According to a new study, children who grow up in urban areas with green spaces have higher IQs and are less likely to exhibit difficult behaviors.

In a study claiming to be the first of its kind, researchers in Belgium analyzed more than 600 children aged 10-15. They then used satellite images to determine where in the city there were green spaces, including parks, gardens, and trees.

The results

The analysis, published last week in Plos Medicine, showed that a 3% increase in the greenness of their neighborhood raised their IQ score by an average of 2.6 points. While measuring behavioral problems like aggression and poor attention span, they also scored two points lesser.

Interestingly, this pattern emerged in children across all socio-economic backgrounds, ruling out the notion that families who are better placed to support children simply have more access to green space.

Co-author of the study and environmental epidemiology professor at Hasselt University in Belgium, Tim Nawrot told The Guardian:

“There is more and more evidence that green surroundings are associated with our cognitive function, such as memory skills and attention.

What this study adds with IQ is a harder, well-established clinical measure. I think city builders or urban planners should prioritize investment in green spaces because it is really of value to create an optimal environment for children to develop their full potential.”

Lower noise, lower stress, more social play

This study builds on other research that shows how nature is beneficial to children’s behavior and mental health.

A February 2019 study published by Aarhus University found that children who had access to green space were 55 percent less likely to develop serious mental disorders later in life. A 2015 study in Barcelona found that green spaces improved children’s cognitive capabilities.

While the cause for this correlation remains unclear, lower noise levels, lower stress, and better opportunities for social play may explain the higher IQ scores, according to the scientists.

Why is investing in green spaces relevant?

The study highlights that, in 1950 less than a third of the world’s population lived in urban areas. Now, more than half the planet lives in cities, and this figure is predicted to rise to 68 percent by 2050.

With the effects of climate change looming large, studies suggest that green spaces could make cities healthier, cleaner, and cooler. The results of this latest study add to that argument and suggest that green landscapes affect the future of the world — our children — positively.

If there’s ever a good time to “rewild cities“, it’s now.

Editors note: This article was produced in partnership with Earth Day Network. In a democracy, every voice matters. Click here to pledge to vote on environmental progress in 2020. 

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