Proximity to residential green spaces associated with higher birth weight

There is scientific evidence that maternal exposure to natural environments promotes healthy fetal growth. However, study results to date have been heterogeneous across regions and there is very little research on the effects of blue spaces such as rivers, sea or lakes. A new study involving a team from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), an institution supported by the “la Caixa” Foundation, evaluated the associations between maternal exposure to green and blue spaces during pregnancy and delivery outcomes in 11 birth cohorts from nine European countries, including Spain.

The results of the study, published in the journal International Environment, indicate that proximity to residential green spaces is associated with higher birth weight and lower chance of having a small-for-gestational-age baby, or SGA, as newborns whose birth weight is less than or equal to the 10th percentile are called bottom. In contrast, greater distance to residential green spaces is associated with lower birth weight and higher odds of SGA. Results showed almost no association for green space accessibility and blue space exposure and accessibility.

Healthy fetal growth can greatly reduce the risk of adverse health outcomes, both early and late in life. For example, babies with low birth weight or SGA may have an increased risk of stunting, lower IQ and premature death in childhood, as well as obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes in adulthood.”

Maria Torres, first author of the study

This study, part of the LifeCycle project, was based on a sample of 69,683 newborns, with an average birth weight of 3.42 kg, of which 6.6% were classified as SGA. For each participant, seven indicators of residential exposure to natural environments were calculated: surrounding green areas at 100, 300 and 500 meters from the residence – calculated by the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) -, distance to the nearest green area, accessibility to green space, distance to the nearest blue space and accessibility to the blue space.

The research team also assessed potential effect modification by socioeconomic status (SES) and European region. The results indicate stronger associations between residential green spaces and higher birth weight for participants with lower educational levels, from poorer areas and residents of Northern Europe.

The results of this study are in line with previous research from various regions of the world. A growing number of studies have reported associations between maternal exposure to green spaces and higher birth weight. However, most of these studies were carried out in a single country with a specific climate and vegetation type, and the effect estimates differed from region to region. “Capitalizing data from 11 birth cohorts across Europe allowed us to assess, for the first time, this association across different countries and clarify the regional role in this issue,” explains Payam Dadvand, ISGlobal researcher and senior author of the study.

The survey involved people from the Netherlands, UK, Denmark, France, Spain, Lithuania, Norway, Italy and Greece. According to the authors, the results of this study can subsidize the implementation of policies to promote natural environments in our cities, starting with the most disadvantaged areas. “Having accessible natural environments in our cities can benefit our children’s health from before birth and beyond, and this must be taken into account by urban planners”, concludes Maria Torres.


Barcelona Institute of Global Health (ISGlobal)

Newspaper reference:

Torres, M. and others (2022) Exposure to natural environments during pregnancy and delivery outcomes in 11 European birth cohorts. International Environment.

Proximity to residential green spaces associated with higher birth weight

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