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New Study Links Neighborhood Greenness to Reduction in Chronic Diseases among Miami Dade Seniors

MIAMI (April 21, 2016)

In association with Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department’s sixth annual Great Parks Summit, a new study of Miami-Dade County Medicare beneficiaries showed that higher levels of greenness on their neighborhood block were linked to a significant reduction in the rate of chronic illnesses and health conditions like diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol, particularly in low-to-middle income neighborhoods.  Led by Scott Brown, a research assistant professor at the University of Miami (UM) Department of Public Health Sciences and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, a Malcolm Matheson Distinguished Professor in Architecture at UM, the study is the first of its kind to examine block-level greenness and its relationship to health outcomes in older adults and measure its impact on specific cardio-metabolic diseases.

Miami-Dade Parks Director Jack Kardys and Maria Nardi, chief of Planning and Design Excellence, joined the research team, participated in data interpretation and co-authored the article, “Neighborhood Greenness and Chronic Health Conditions in Medicare Beneficiaries,” published online April 6 by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Based on 2010 to 2011 health data reported for approximately 250,000 Miami-Dade Medicare beneficiaries over age 65, along with a measure of vegetative presence based on NASA satellite imagery, the findings revealed that higher levels of greenness on the blocks where the study’s Medicare recipients reside, is associated with a significantly lower chronic disease risk for the residents of high greenness blocks, including a 14 percent risk reduction for diabetes, a 13 percent reduction for hypertension and a 10 percent reduction for lipid disorders. “Going from a low to high level of greenness at the block level is associated with 49 fewer chronic conditions per 1,000 residents, which is approximately equivalent to a reduction in the biomedical aging of the study population by three years,” said Brown. 

“The fact that people live three years longer, points to the vital role parks and green space have on health and well-being, and to the critical need to have a holistic approach in planning,” said Kardys, who believes that this work, “suggests extensive potential for park, open space and streetscape design.” 

Funded by the Office of Policy Development and Research in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and by the Health Foundation of South Florida, the research adds to a growing body of evidence that exposure to higher levels of greenness is associated with better health outcomes, by reducing stress, air pollution, humidity and heat island impacts, and encourages physical activity, social interaction and community cohesion.

Nardi said that, “these findings highlight Miami-Dade Parks’ focus on an evidence-based framework for the implementation of the County’s Parks and Open Space Master Plan, which includes enhancements to existing greenways and parks, as well as opportunities for new parks, open spaces, and a fully connected system of greenways and blueways.” She noted that the County’s nationally recognized Parks and Open Spaces Master Plan calls for access to green immediately outside of homes, and parks within a ten-minute walk: a strategy that an increasing number of recent studies now associate with better health outcomes. 

“There’s so much suffering involved in the time, money and energy spent on disease burden in the U.S., which we realize that we can, to some extent, ameliorate through healthy community design in our parks and public spaces,” said Joanna Lombard, professor of architecture, and study investigator and co-author. In examining the results by income level and by race, the research showed that the health benefits of greenness were proportionately stronger among all racial and ethnic groups in lower income neighborhoods. 

Brown explained that this aspect of the findings suggests that incorporating more green: trees, parks and open spaces in low income neighborhoods could also address issues of health disparities. Nardi noted the principle of equity, which is foundational to the Master Plan, guides the implementation of existing and future parks, public spaces and complete streets. This will continue to be implemented in collaboration with leading partners in the Florida Department of Health Miami Dade, National Recreation and Park Association, Florida Recreation and Park Association, the Public Housing and Community Development as well as Transportation and Public Works Department. 

Kardys, a member of the Board of Directors of the National Recreation and Parks Association and President of the Florida Recreation and Parks Association, identified the link between research and implementation as a crucial aspect of good planning for better community health. He and Nardi believe that Miami-Dade Parks and its research partners are uniquely poised to advance knowledge, and through community partnerships, develop greenways, parks and open spaces in Miami-

Dade to support and enhance community health and well-being. “Miami-Dade has the capacity to model the transformation of thinking about parks and open space for the nation,” said Kardys, and work like this enables us to set our priorities for moving forward.”

 Miami-Dade Parks is a world-class parks system supported by the Parks Foundation of Miami-Dade and focused on Placemaking, Health and Fitness, and Conservation and Stewardship.