A study based on data from more than 2,300 inhabitants of seven Spanish provinces concludes that women show a strong relationship between the appearance of overweight and obesity and lack of access to urban green spaces, such as parks or gardens. However, this relationship does not occur in men.
Women who live less than 300 meters from a green space may have less risk of developing overweight and obesity, according to a recent study published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health and led by the Institute of Global Health of Barcelona (ISGlobal).
Based on information from the MultiCaso Control Spain project ( MCC-Spain ), the team analyzed the data of 2,354 people from seven Spanish provinces (Asturias, Barcelona, Cantabria, Madrid, Murcia, Navarra and Valencia). The participants, between 20 and 85 years old, answered questions regarding their residence history, their lifestyle (physical activity, leisure time, etc.) and their weight and height.
In addition, the circumference of the hip and waist was measured and blood or saliva was taken . To confirm the existence of overweight or obesity, two markers frequently used in epidemiological studies were used as a reference: the Body Mass Index (BMI) and the waist-hip index (CHF).
As the study concludes, women show a strong relationship between the development of overweight and obesity and lack of access to urban green spaces, such as parks or gardens. In the case of men, however, this relationship does not occur.
“We are not clear about the biological determinants that hide behind the observed gender differences,” says Cristina O’Callaghan-Gordo, first author and researcher at ISGlobal. “There are probably social factors, such as the different uses that men and women give to green spaces, that may explain this disparity.”
Thanks to the DNA samples obtained in saliva and blood, the researchers were able to analyze the importance of genetics in this linkage. “We looked at genetic polymorphisms that had been associated with obesity in previous studies,” says O’Callaghan-Gordo.
“In general, we observe a more marked reduction in the risk of developing obesity in those people who are genetically susceptible to this pathology. This result highlights the existence of interactions between the environment and genes that can trigger or curb excess weight,” she adds.
Overweight and obesity, disease catalysts
According to data of the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2016 more than 1.9 billion adults were overweight. Of them, more than 650 million suffered obesity, a preventable disease. “Overweight is an important risk factor for several noncommunicable diseases , such as cardiovascular, kidney and liver, diabetes, various musculoskeletal disorders and some types of cancer,” says Manolis Kogevinas, study leader. “It has also been associated with an increased risk of mortality from all causes.”
Natural outdoor environments, including green spaces within urban settings, promote health and well-being by increasing physical activity levels, reducing exposure to noise and promoting the reduction of psychological stress, an important driver of increased weight.
“This study sheds light on the importance of green spaces in the risk of developing overweight and obesity among women in Spain. Understanding the mechanisms that explain this association is crucial to plan effective and successful public health interventions,” concludes Kogevinas.