Biomonitoring research among 610 young people by the Centre for Environment and Health in 2017-2018 has delivered important messages for citizens and policy. The results confirm that it is good for our health to regularly visit a green environment and to ventilate and air the home properly.

Green spaces in the city increase the concentration levels among young people

Scientists from the Centre for Environment and Health discovered that young people with more greenery in their neighbourhood scored significantly better in attention tests. Certainly high greenery (e.g. trees, hedges, parks) is important and not only presence but also access to greenery is favourable. Those who live close to greenery, less than 50 metres from their home, show slower cell aging, even from birth. This information provides elements to also make an urban environment healthier. This is necessary because more pollutants such as PAHs and benzene were found in the urine of young people living in urban areas. Young people with more PAHs also show more stress, a weaker immune system and DNA damage. 

Good ventilation makes the house healthier

With good ventilation and aeration, young people have lower levels of pesticides, plasticisers, flame retardants, perfluoric compounds in the body. They also have less physiological stress. We do notice that old regulated substances are disappearing more and more, but are being replaced by new, lesser-known chemical substances. Young people living in houses built after 2006 have less lead, brominated flame retardants and phthalates in blood or urine. With the use of new decoration (curtains, sofa, carpet, ...) in the home, young people have higher levels of new flame retardants, more respiratory infections and asthma (in boys). 

What do we get out of the research? 

Prof. Greet Schoeters coordinated the research and emphasises that the results offer important messages for policy: "The government can improve health by providing more accessible and green space, both in urban and rural areas. It is also important to have strict regulations to curb harmful chemicals in consumer products.” 

"Over the past year, the call for accessible nature close by has sounded louder than ever. Not least in urbanised areas where this is much less evident than in other regions in Flanders. This study proves that we, together with the Flemish government, are making the right choice by working on nature close to people, creating tiny forests and setting up other initiatives that make Flanders greener", says Flemish Minister of Nature Zuhal Demir.

The results can also be used by citizens. Staying in a green environment and ventilating the home are examples of simple measures that improve health. This requires extra attention for socially vulnerable citizens, as the results show that they have less access to greenery in the residential environment and, as tenants, have less of an impact on the interior design of the house. 

Tips for citizens

  • Actively look up the greenery in the neighbourhood, it makes you more attentive.
  • Ventilate your home well, especially if you have new curtains, carpets or seats.
  • Don't smoke in the house; certainly don't use pesticides indoors.
  • Be careful with scent diffusers, and avoid polishes with bleach.

Tips for governments

  • Ensure good access to green spaces. Even small green elements, even in the city, are important.
  • Urban air pollution still has negative health effects.
  • The regulation of emerging chemicals in new materials should be speeded up.
  • Extra attention is needed for socially vulnerable citizens for whom healthy choices are not always within reach.

This research was carried out by the Environment and Health Policy Research Centre on behalf of the Environment Department of the Flemish Government. The Policy Research Centre is a multidisciplinary research consortium consisting of researchers from the five Flemish universities (UAntwerp, UGhent, UHasselt, VUB, KULeuven) and PIH, and is coordinated by VITO.

For information and tips we refer to the website:

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