NEW research has unearthed a link between green space and the mental health of children living in Bradford.

The study looked at the impact of nature on the wellbeing of four-year-old children living in the city.

Said to be the first of its kind to explore the relationship between the quantity, quality, and use of green space and its effect on mental health, the research has now been published in The Lancet’s Planetary Health Journal.

It's part of the Born in Bradford study, which is tracking the lives of thousands of the city's children into adulthood and beyond.

A total of 2,594 mums - 1,518 participants were South Asian, 738 were of White British origin and 333 were of another ethnicity - were asked to report on their children’s mental wellbeing between 2012 and 2015. The amount of green space available in their neighbourhood was calculated using satellite images.

Mums were also asked how satisfied they were with their local parks, and how often their children’s played outside in green spaces.

Researchers looked at the amount of residential green space around participants' homes and the distances to large parks. Green spaces were defined as public parks including play areas specifically designed for children. Parents answered a series of questionnaires about how often and how long their children played out in both summer and winter, and how satisfied they were with their local parks.

Over four years, follow-up assessments were carried out to examine the effect on the children’s mental health, as perceived by their mothers, including other important lifestyle, demographic and socio-economic factors.

The majority of families involved in the study - 66 per cent - lived in areas deemed some of the most deprived inner city wards of the country.

The research found that among South Asian children, the amount of green space in the local neighbourhood had a positive impact on their health as it was associated with fewer behavioural difficulties.

But the team also discovered that satisfaction with local parks was a more important predictor of children's mental wellbeing, suggesting that quality and quantity are key to unlocking the health benefits of green spaces.

Dr Rosie McEachan, author and Born in Bradford director, said: “We asked families how satisfied were they with their local parks and green space - when parents reported greater satisfaction with these spaces, their children’s mental wellbeing was greater. This suggests that quality of green spaces is a more important predictor of children’s mental wellbeing than simply having lots of it around.

“Our research also found that South Asian children spent less time playing outside in parks and that their parents were less satisfied with their green places.

“The reasons why South Asian mums are less satisfied with their local parks and use them less, may because many of these families live in inner city areas where the quality of local parks is not as good as other areas.”

Only 14 per cent of South Asian families lived in the greenest parts of the city compared with 34 per cent of White British families.

Dr McEachan added: “We hope our research will make policy makers think about innovative ways of making our poorer neighbourhoods and communities greener, and healthier places to live in as this may have a significant benefit on the mental health of our children.

“For South Asian children – and for those other children living in deprived inner cities around the country - living close to and playing in green spaces can alleviate mental health symptoms and lead to happier and healthier children but we need to think about the quality of our parks and not just the quantity as provision of green space alone is unlikely to produce health benefits.”

The BiB project is based at the Bradford Institute for Health Research (BIHR) within the grounds of the Bradford Royal Infirmary.