Researchers at the University of Western Sydney in Australia found in a cross-sectional study that people living in open areas with a lot of vegetation had lower rates of type-2 diabetes than those who lived in less open space with less greenery.
Researchers studied more than 267 thousand people, 45 years and older, living in New South Wales. They calculated the percentage of vegetation using data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The more green space there was in an area, the lower the type-2 diabetes rate.
The type-2 rate was 9.1 percent in areas that were 20 percent vegetation or less, while it was 8 percent in areas that were about 40 percent vegetation. One health expert not involved in the study noted that these results would have probably been more dramatic, if researchers hadn’t relied on self-reporting by patients for their data.
The most drastic drop in type-2 diabetes rates was found among people living in areas that had from 41 to 60 percent vegetation; this maintained even after researchers controlled for demographic and cultural factors. Whether subjects were wealthy or not, more open space translated into lower type-2 rates.
More open space and access to parks was also found in the study to be linked to lower rates of obesity and more physical activity by study subjects. People in greener places also ate more low-fat diets, more fruits and vegetables, and they were less likely to be smokers.
Previous studies have shown that lifestyle modification for type-2 diabetes patients is most adhered to when people live in supportive environments, such as those with access to parks and greenery, which promote more active lifestyles. The flip side of that coin is that people who are surrounded by less vegetation and have more limited access to parks are at greater risk for obesity and type-2 diabetes.
The next phase of the study will reduce the limitations of the current analysis, the study’s lead author said; however, researchers noted that planning and promoting local green spaces is a very important way in which governments can address the global type-2 diabetes epidemic.
The 2011 National Diabetes Fact Sheet states that 26 million children and adults in the United States — 8.3 percent of the population — have diabetes. Another 79 million Americans have pre-diabetes.
Diabetic and pre-diabetic conditions can be vastly improved or even reversed by eating a low-sugar, natural diet of whole foods, including whole grains, vegetables and fruits, and by getting plenty of regular aerobic exercise.
The Australian study was published online in September, 2013 in the journal Diabetes Care, of the American Diabetes Association.
By Eirian Hallinan