Research Summary

Early life exposure to green space and insulin resistance: An assessment from infancy to early adolescence

Exposure to greenspace during childhood may not have the protective effect on diabetes risk among adolescents as previously thought

Environment International
2020

Research investigating possible links between greenspace exposure and the risk of diabetes has shown mixed results. While some research reported green space as a protective factor against the risk of diabetes among adults, related studies have not evaluated green space exposure at different times during childhood to determine if early life exposure could potentially reduce the risk in youth. This study aimed to do so.

Data for this study was based on greenspace exposure of 460 individuals at four different times during childhood: infancy, early childhood, mid-childhood, and early adolescence. Greenspace exposure was based on satellite imagery at 3 different buffer sizes around the residential address of the participants. Data also included an insulin resistance measure (HOMA-IR) of each participant at the early adolescent stage. HOMA-IR provides information about how much insulin is needed to maintain healthy blood sugar levels and is an indicator of risk for diabetes.

Neighborhoods with the highest levels of greenspace had the highest percentage of white participants, college-educated parents, and households with higher incomes. Initial results showed that participants living in neighborhoods with the highest levels of greenspace at infancy had lower HOMA-IR readings in early adolescence than those living in neighborhoods with the lowest levels of greenspace. Further analysis, however, provided no evidence of associations between greenspace exposure from infancy to early adolescence and HOMA-IR in early adolescence, once various other factors were controlled for. Additionally, there was no evidence of other factors – including sex, race/ethnicity, parental socio-economic status, and neighborhood socio-economic status – impacting associations between greenspace exposure during childhood and the risk of diabetes at early adolescence.

This study examined longitudinal measures of exposure to greenness surrounding each participant’s home address over 12 years of follow-up and found that exposure to greenspace at early life sensitive time periods was not associated with HOMA-IR in youth. While these findings suggest that exposure to greenspace during childhood does not have a protective effect on diabetes risk among adolescents, further research is needed to confirm or refute these results.