You might just want to give the nearest tree a giant bear hug when you read the latest research on the link between human health and the health of trees.
When the emerald ash borer, a beetle that kills ash trees, infested the Eastern and Midwestern United States killing over 100 million trees, the U.S. Forest Service had a unique opportunity to study its effect on human health.
In many of these communities, city streets once lined with trees became barren expanses of concrete and asphalt.
The researchers analyzed 18 years of data from 1,296 counties in 15 states. The data included demographics, human mortality, and forest health data at the county level between 1990 and 2007.
The data came from counties in states with at least one confirmed case of the emerald ash borer in 2010.
They found that Americans living in areas affected by the emerald ash borer had an additional 15,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease and 6,000 more deaths from lower respiratory disease when compared to uninfected areas.
Even after the researchers accounted for other confounding factors such as the levels of income or education of people in the affected regions, they had no other explanation for the higher mortality rates. They saw the same pattern repeated over and over in counties with very different demographic makeups.
Furthermore, this study is not without support from multiple scientific fields. There is growing evidence that trees can have a profound effect on our physical and emotional health. Other research has found other benefits:
- Trees produce oxygen and help clean the air, reducing pollution that can damage our lungs or trigger asthma attacks
- Hospitals have found that patients with views of trees and green space recover from surgery or illness faster.
- Greenscapes reduces stress and promotes a more hopeful, positive mood
- Children with attention deficit hyperactive disorder, or ADHD, experienced a significant reduction in symptoms after they participated in activities in green settings
And, let’s not forget all the medicines made from trees—aspirin from willow bark and Taxol from yews just to name two. So go ahead, hug a tree—they’ve earned it.
U.S. Forest Service
University of Illinois