Nature Deprivation Can Increase Allergies and Asthma
According to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, lacking a certain amount of contact with our natural environment is one of the reasons more city dwellers develop asthma and outdoor allergies than those who live in more rural areas. The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Helsinki compared samples from 188 participants, all of which lived inFinland. The results of the study showed that those participants that lived in farms or in forested areas had less diverse bacteria on their skin and also had lower sensitivity to allergens found in nature. Scientists say that certain microbiota are found in much higher quantities in rural areas rather than in urban areas. Microbiota are those bacteria that are beneficial to humans in that they help us maintain our immune system.
People who live in cities and urban areas, especially children and the elderly, are not the only people who are developing allergies. In recent years the percentage of children who play sports or play outdoors has been steadily decreasing. So even children who live in suburban areas where there are many green spaces, parks and playgrounds are becoming more susceptible to developing outdoor allergies. And this isn’t just a problem in theU.S. and Finland. A recent report released by the National Trust in Britain stated that only 24% of children in the U.K. play outside.
The University of Helsinki researchers recently told the BBC that the urbanization of many cities and decrease in outdoor activity should be seen as a “lost opportunity for many people to interact with the natural environment and its biodiversity, including the microbial communities.”
Even if children (or adults) who live in urban areas do go outside to play or exercise, the air quality is usually poor and contains many pollutants that can trigger allergies or cause asthma. This is another reason why creating true green spaces and parks with plenty of trees is so important.
Of course, living in more rural areas has many other benefits including less stress and improved quality of life. A few scientific studies have proven the connection between closeness to nature and these two positive effects. One study, published in the Journal of Landscape and Urban Planning found that people who live in areas deprived of green spaces have higher levels of stress. The Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors found that people living in the UK have a higher quality of life if they have an easy time getting outdoors and experiencing nature.
We must all realize that while we cannot reverse urbanization, it is important to make sure we have access to green spaces. Urban planners need to be putting more emphasis and focus on incorporating more parks, gardens, agriculture and green spaces into urban areas. If you live in an urban area, or even a suburban area, be sure to try to get out to a park with trees and waterways as often as you can. You can also write to your community leaders and advocate for more green spaces and parks in your area.
Photo Credit: Some Rights Reserved by Steve Allen The Environmental Blog
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