Nature contact and general health: Testing multiple serial mediation pathways with data from adults in 18 countries

Available on 30 June 2023

The role of neighbourhood nature in promoting good health is increasingly recognised in policy and practice, but consistent evidence for the underlying mechanisms is lacking. Heterogeneity in exposure methods, outcome measures, and population characteristics, little exploration of recreational use or the role of different types of green or blue space, and multiple separate mediation models in previous studies have limited our ability to synthesise findings and draw clear conclusions. We examined multiple pathways linking different types of neighbourhood nature with general health using a harmonised international sample of adults.

Using cross-sectional survey data from 18 countries (n = 15,917), we developed a multigroup path model to test theorised pathways, controlling for sociodemographic variables. We tested the possibility that neighbourhood nature (e.g. greenspace, inland bluespace, and coastal bluespace) would be associated with general health through lower air pollution exposure, greater physical activity attainment, more social contact, and higher subjective well-being. However, our central prediction was that associations between different types of neighbourhood nature and general health would largely be serially mediated by recent visit frequency to corresponding environment types, and, subsequently, physical activity, social contact, and subjective well-being associated with these frequencies. Several subsidiary analyses assessed the robustness of the results to alternative model specifications as well as effect modification by sociodemographics.

Consistent with this prediction, there was statistical support for eight of nine potential serial mediation pathways via visit frequency which held for a range of alternative model specifications. Effect modification by financial strain, sex, age, and urbanicity altered some associations but did not necessarily support the idea that nature reduced health inequalities.

The results demonstrate that across countries, theorised nature-health linkages operate primarily through recreational contact with natural environments. This provides arguments for greater efforts to support use of local green/blue spaces for health promotion and disease prevention.

Full citation

Elliott, L.R., Pasanen, T., White, M.P., Wheeler, B.W., Grellier, J., Cirach, M., Bratman, G.N., van den Bosch, M., Roiko, A., Ojala, A., Nieuwenhuijsen, M., Fleming, L.E., 2023. Nature contact and general health: Testing multiple serial mediation pathways with data from adults in 18 countries. Environment International 178, 108077. DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2023.108077