Living Near Trees Has Health Benefits Worth $20,000

Urban trees health benefits
A new study claims planting more urban trees, like these cherry trees in Paris, can have health benefits worth thousands, picture taken April 15 2015. John Schults/Reuters

Living near trees can have a marked increase on your health, according to a new study which puts a monetary value on the benefits.

Living on a street with with an extra 11 trees can have health benefits equivalent to a $20,000 annual salary increase, the study, led by scientists from the University of Chicago, found.

The study, based on a huge database of public trees and health records in Toronto, found that having an extra 11 trees per street reduces the chance of cardio-metabolic conditions, which include heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

The benefits, the researchers said, were comparable to an annual salary increase of $20,000.

The researchers also found that residents' self-perception of health - how healthy someone feels or perceives themselves to be - was dramatically increased by a greater density of public trees.

Adding just 10 trees to a neighbourhood could improve self-perception of health in ways comparable to being seven years younger, the study found.

The study, published in the journal Nature yesterday, studied the effects of Toronto's 530,000 public trees and analysed the health records of more than 30,000 residents. They focused specifically on public trees lining the city's streets, rather than private gardens and municipal parks.

The researchers were looking particularly for health benefits in regard to overall health perception, cardio-metabolic conditions, and mental health conditions. The study looked at self-perception of health as it has previously been proven as a reliable predictor of health outcomes.

According to the study, planting an extra 10 trees per street in a city has boosting the income of every household in that street by $10,000, because of the combined benefits in terms of self-perception and decreased risk of conditions such as heart disease and hypertension.

The team recommended such a public health measure as cost-effective, estimating the cost of planting and maintaining 10 urban trees as a maximum of $5,000 per annum.

Trees are known to improve air quality and reduce pollution, with a 2010 study claiming that trees and forests save the US some $6.8 billion in public health benefits in a year, removing 17.4 million tonnes of air pollution.

Trees and public gardens also have stress-relieving properties and can promote physical activity among residents. However, this study did not identify which particular health benefits were associated with which particular causes.

In Europe, Paris claims to be the most densely wooded capital, with 478,000 trees in total and 8,000 along the Boulevard Périphérique, the ring road which encloses the city. Tallinn, the Estonian capital, is the current European City of Trees and is home to 52 protected trees.