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A comparison of green space indicators for epidemiological research
  1. Richard Mitchell1,
  2. Thomas Astell-Burt2,
  3. Elizabeth A Richardson3
  1. 1University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
  2. 2MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, Glasgow, UK
  3. 3Edinburgh University, Edinburgh, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Richard Mitchell, Professor of Health and Environment, Public Health and Health Policy Section, University of Glasgow, 1 Lilybank Gardens, Glasgow G12 8RZ, UK; richard.mitchell{at}


Background The potential for natural environments to be salutogenic has received growing interest from epidemiologists, but there has been no critical examination of the extent to which associations between green space and health might vary according to the indicator of green space coverage used.

Methods Three different indicators of green space coverage were derived for a set of 268 small areas in four cities within Britain. The indicators had different origins and provided a spectrum of sensitivity from larger spaces only, through to ambient greenery. Two indicators reproducible for anywhere in Europe were included. Agreement between the indicators on the quantity of green space in a small area, and their independent association with measures of mortality and self-reported morbidity, were compared.

Results Overall, the indicators showed relatively close overall agreement (all r2>0.89, p<0.001). However, agreement varied by level of area socioeconomic deprivation (p<0.001). The indicator that detected larger spaces only found less green space in areas of socioeconomic deprivation than the other two. Despite this difference, all indicators showed similar protective associations with the risk of mortality and self-reported morbidity suggesting that larger green spaces may be more important for health effects than smaller spaces.

Conclusions Associations between green space indicator and health were not sensitive to indicator origin and type. This raises the possibility of trans-European epidemiological studies. Larger green spaces may be the most important for health effects, but may also be less prevalent in more deprived areas.

  • Environmental epidem
  • green space
  • indicator
  • measurement
  • methodology
  • methodology me
  • urban health

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  • Funding The authors gratefully acknowledge funding by the Forestry Commission. The funders had no sight of this article until after submission. They have had no input at all to the research process or reporting of this project.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.