A few weeks ago, The Academic Minute featured research touting the health benefits of green space.
Today, we feature Dr. Kristen Malecki, an assistant professor of population health sciences at The University of Wisconsin Madison. Her research focuses on the lack of green space awareness.
Dr. Kristen Malecki received her Masters of Public Health (MPH) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Environmental Epidemiology and Health Policy from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. After graduation she was a Council for State and Territorial Epidemiology Fellow and worked for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services in their Environmental Public Health Tracking Program. She is currently a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin Madison School of Medicine and Public Health and Co-Director for the Survey of the Health of Wisconsin. Her current research focuses on developing new and novel tools for measuring environmental exposures and the interaction between environmental and psychosocial factors on population health and health equity. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family, running with friends and spending time outdoors.
Green Space Awareness
In today’s fast paced world, we often forget that perhaps the best medicine we can find is right outside our back doors.
With the nation’s reliance on electronics for communication, and automobiles for transportation, how individuals interact with the world, and each other, is also rapidly changing.
There are growing perceptions that we are more stressed out and anxious than ever before, but very few solutions to solving these issues.
We hypothesize: the neighborhoods and communities we live in can have profound effects on our overall well-being, particularly in promoting mental health, but the relationships are often complex. For example, in addition to our physical surroundings, the relationships we have, financial resources, historical context and perceptions may make a difference in how the neighborhoods and communities we live in can affect our health.
My research focuses on disentangling these complex relationships. I began as an environmental epidemiologist and quickly realized policies to address pollution alone were not enough to improve health, but understanding how our emotional well-being in the context of where live can perhaps make a difference.
My research builds from data being collected through the Survey of the Health of Wisconsin. The study is a unique statewide health examination survey that randomly selects residents from all over the state.
Wisconsin residents live in diverse geographic and cultural landscapes ranging from racially and economically segregated cities, to farms, to college towns and the great north woods.
In a recent study, we found that overall younger people, those who are depressed, unmarried and live in urban environments are more likely to not be able to identify health promoting features in their environment that are really there.
When we looked at differences between urban and rural residents we found in rural areas individuals who were depressed or had a chronic condition were more likely to be unaware of their neighborhood environment, but this was not the case in urban areas.
In other studies using SHOW data we have also found green space can help reduce stress, anxiety and depression and that neighborhoods and sleep can affect how we feel. We are now looking at how these factors interact and promote health. These findings are significant, because improving neighborhood features such as increasing green-space or increasing awareness may be a fairly low cost solution to improving health. However, if some people don’t know what is available to them in order to take advantage of it, simply improving the landscape may not be enough.