Biodiverse living environment as a promoter of long-term health in urban and rural areas

Green childhood is a research project asking if biodiversity near to home affects the later risk of developing non-communicable diseases.

Green childhood research project (2022-2025) brings extensive environmental and health data from million Finnish children to the same interdisciplinary analysis to study if early childhood exposure to natural environments can have lasting health impacts. We also aim to effectively communicate our findings to experts working with child health as well as public.

“Are babies growing up in biodiverse environments less likely to develop non-communicable diseases?”

Loss of biodiversity threats human wellbeing

Biodiversity is currently declining in unprecedented scales. This creates serious threat to human health, wellbeing and even existence. Biodiversity affects humans in numerous indirect ways by providing ecosystem services filling our basic needs. However, green childhood project is especially interested about the potential direct link between humans and environment explained below.

Non-communicable diseases are in the rise

Non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers, asthma, diabetes and inflammatory bowel diseases, account for most of the mortality in the world’s population. These diseases have become more common as the standard of living has risen, as nutrition, lifestyles and living environments have changed.

We go beyond the green

Research have shown that a green environment can be a protective factor against the development of some non-communicable diseases, such as asthma and allergies. Yet the link between biodiversity of these green environment and human health is understudied. Green childhood project studies whether biodiversity of green environments matters for children’s long-term health both at a national scale, and within urban environments.

Girl in pink overall running in forest
Photo: Adobe Stock

Microbiome can mediate the health impacts of nature

Events and exposures during early childhood fundamentally affect the development of the immune system and thus the individual’s risk of getting sick later. Microbial exposures participate to this regulation of immune system, which can mediate the health effects produced by the green areas. Therefore, the environmental biodiversity can have direct effect on the health of individuals through microbes. 

We ask three main questions

With the national longitudinal register data, capital region birth cohort data, and the available environmental and biodiversity data, we are now working on to answer following questions:

1) Which non-communicable diseases are connected to early-life exposure to biodiversity?

2) How different types of green areas affect the health of urban children?

3) Do changes in the gut microbiome mediate the health effects of green areas?

“We believe that our interdisciplinary approach to health research helps get to the root causes of health and disease.”

Contact persons

Principal Investigator, Senior Research Scientist Jenni Lehtimäki
Urban Nature -group, Finnish Environment Institute
02 9525 1440 or +358 503 050 007

Postdoctoral Researcher Yuan Wang
Population Health Unit, Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare