Effects of the Natural Environment on Positive Emotional Health Among Young People in Canada
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Background: Positive emotional health is an important component of overall health, and it is linked to many social and health outcomes among youth. The natural environment is thought to influence emotional health. Psychological and experimental research have each shown links between exposure to nature and both stress reduction and attention restoration. Some population studies have suggested positive effects of green space on various indicators of health. However, there are limited large-scale epidemiological studies assessing this relationship, specifically for populations of young people and in the Canadian context. Objectives: To examine possible effects of natural space on positive emotional health among young adolescent Canadians. Methods: This cross-sectional study was based upon the Canadian 2009/10 Health Behaviour in School-aged Children Survey with linked geographic information system (GIS) data. Following exclusions, the sample included 17 249 (mostly grades 6 to 10) students from 317 schools. Features of the natural environment were extracted using GIS within a 5 km radius circular buffer surrounding each school. Multilevel logistic regression was used to examine the relationship between the presence of natural space and students’ reports of positive emotional health, while controlling for salient covariates and the clustered nature of the data. Results: Over half of Canadian youth reported positive emotional health (58.5% among boys and 51.6% among girls). Relationships between the amount of natural space and positive emotional health were weak and lacked consistency. Compared to the lowest quartile of natural space, the most notable protective effect existed for students who lived in the third quartile (RR: 1.05; 95% CI: 1.00-1.10). The relationship appeared to differ by urban/rural geographic location, suggesting protective effects in small cities. Positive emotional health was, however, more strongly associated with other factors including demographic characteristics, family affluence, and perceptions surrounding neighbourhoods. Conclusion: Exposure to natural space in youth’s immediate living environment may not be a leading determinant of their emotional health. The relationship between natural space and positive emotional health may be context specific, and hence different for Canadian youth compared to adult populations and those studied in other nations. The main contributors to emotional health among youth were personal factors.