Plants and green spaces make urban children more active

Author(s): Jesslyn Thay , Date: 13 July 2022

A study by the  Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), a centre supported by the "la Caixa” Foundation, found that children who grow-up in urban areas with green space and plants have better health behaviours – such as exercise and better sleep. 

The research published in Environment International, focussed on nearly 1600 urban children from across Europe and their lifestyles. The researchers concluded that children who live surrounded by more natural spaces are more physically active, spend less time doing sedentary activities, get more hours of sleep and are more likely to walk or cycle to school. 

These healthy lifestyle habits instilled at a young age can improve their future adolescent and adult health. Less time spent inside playing video games and longer walks to school contribute to overall increased health of children. 

However, the research also found that children who lived nearer to busy roads had less sleep at night than their counterparts who lived in ‘greener’ urban spaces. Busy roads also contributed to less outside activity. 

Urban planners are urged to include more green space and blue space (beaches, rivers, lakes, etc.) in future builds, in addition to areas that encourage exercise like pedestrian zones and sport facilities like ping-pong tables, volleyball courts. 

The researchers stated that a large percentage of the children included in the study (63.6%) did not meet the current recommendation of the World Health Organisation (WHO) for moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (at least 60 minutes per day) and 58.6% spent more than two hours per day watching television or playing computer or video games.

The study, based on the collaborative Human Early-Life Exposome (HELIX) project, used data from six European birth cohorts:

  • Born in Bradford (BiB, United Kingdom)
  • Étude des Déterminants pré et postnatals précoces du développement et de la santé de l’Enfant (EDEN, France)
  • INfancia y Medio Ambiente (INMA, Spain)
  • Kaunas cohort (KANC, Lithuania)
  • Norwegian Mother, Father and Child Cohort Study (MoBa, Norway)
  • Mother-Child Cohort in Crete, (RHEA, Greece)



Sílvia Fernández-Barrés, Oliver Robinson, Serena Fossati, Sandra Márquez, Xavier Basagaña, Jeroen de Bont, Montserrat de Castro, David Donaire-Gonzalez, Léa Maitre, Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, Dora Romaguera, José Urquiza, Leda Chatzi, Minas Iakovides, Marina Vafeiadi, Regina Grazuleviciene, Audrius Dedele, Sandra Andrusaityte, Gunn Marit Aasvang, Jorunn Evandt, Norun Hjertager Krog, Johanna Lepeule, Barbara Heude, John Wright, Rosemary R.C. McEachan, Franco Sassi, Paolo Vineis, Martine Vrijheid, (2022) Urban environment and health behaviours in children from six European countries, Environment International, Volume 165, 2022, 107319, ISSN 0160-4120,