Exposure to urban greenspace and pathways to respiratory health: An exploratory systematic review

William Mueller, James Milner, Miranda Loh, Sotiris Vardoulakis, Paul Wilkinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background/objective: Urban greenspace may have a beneficial or adverse effect on respiratory health. Our objective was to perform an exploratory systematic review to synthesise the evidence and identify the potential causal pathways relating urban greenspace and respiratory health. Methods: We followed PRISMA guidelines on systematic reviews and searched five databases for eligible studies during 2000–2021. We incorporated a broad range of urban greenspace and respiratory health search terms, including both observational and experimental studies. Screening, data extraction, and risk of bias, assessed using the Navigation Guide criteria, were performed independently by two authors. We performed a narrative synthesis and discuss suggested pathways to respiratory health. Results: We identified 108 eligible papers (n = 104 observational, n = 4 experimental). The most common greenspace indicators were the overall greenery or vegetation (also known as greenness), green land use/land cover of physical area classes (e.g., parks, forests), and tree canopy cover. A wide range of respiratory health indicators were studied, with asthma prevalence being the most common. Two thirds (n = 195) of the associations in these studies were positive (i.e., beneficial) with health, with 31% (n = 91) statistically significant; only 9% (n = 25) of reported associations were negative (i.e., adverse) with health and statistically significant. The most consistent positive evidence was apparent for respiratory mortality. There were n = 35 (32%) ‘probably low’ and n = 73 (68%) ‘probably high’ overall ratings of bias. Hypothesised causal pathways for health benefits included lower air pollution, more physically active populations, and exposure to microbial diversity; suggested mechanisms with poorer health included exposure to pollen and other aeroallergens. Conclusion: Many studies showed positive association between urban greenspace and respiratory health, especially lower respiratory mortality; this is suggestive, but not conclusive, of causal effects. Results underscore the importance of contextual factors, greenspace metric employed, and the potential bias of subtle selection factors, which should be explored further.

Original languageEnglish
Article number154447
Pages (from-to)1-32
Number of pages32
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jul 2022
Externally publishedYes


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