In this year's Haldane lecture, Professor Kathy Willis examines the newly emerging 'green health' scientific evidence-base. The lecture is introduced by the College President, Sir Tim Hitchens.
It has long been recognized that nature, especially in cities, is more than just street furniture. It is relatively well-known that trees, shrubs and flowers can provide shade in the summer, removal of particulate matter from polluted air, and habitats for birds, insects and other city-dwelling biodiversity.
Less well-known is the fact that nature can also directly influence our health. The amount of green space, the number of healthy trees and overall color of green of a neighborhood all appear to be important for physical and mental well-being. Intriguing correlations have been emerging from a number of large studies recently to suggest that these features can be associated with reduced incidences of obesity, cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases and depression.
But what is it about nature that leads to these improved health outcomes? Whilst many studies have demonstrated correlations between nature and health, the vast majority do not provide the underlying scientific evidence base to determine causality and this is a recognized knowledge gap. To address this, a new scientific discipline is emerging. This is one which aims to determine the physiological and psychological responses to different kinds of nature that lead to improved health outcomes. This “green health” agenda is being driven forward not by biodiversity scientists, but primarily by the medical profession and public health professionals. They recognize the huge potential of green prescriptions.
This talk examines this newly emerging ‘green health’ scientific evidence-base. In particular it discusses studies that have examined physiological and psychological responses to diversity, color, shape (fractal dimension), and smells of nature. What emerges is compelling evidence for quantifiable and significant health benefits associated with certain types of biodiversity.
Professor Willis, Principal at St Edmund Hall, holds a position in the departmen of Zoology as Professor of Biodiversity and Head of the Oxford Long-term Ecology group. Her research focuses on the use of fossils and modern datasets, models and innovative technologies to determine the diversity, distribution and ambudance of plants and animals across global landscapes.