Chapter 7. Investigating equitable access to greenspace during the COVID-19 pandemic: Implications for children’s mental health in Durham, North Carolina

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Sharmi Amin, Kate Hoffman, PhD, Catherine Kastleman, MPH and Heather M Stapleton, PhD
Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, Duke University, Durham and Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Nicholas School of the Environment, Durham, North Carolina, United States of America

Part of the book: Environmental Health: Poverty, Race and Child Health in the Time of COVID-19

Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.52305/DBDO5259

Abstract

Past research suggests positive correlations between time spent outdoors and better mental health in children. During the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers predicted that limitations on social gathering could have lasting impacts on children’s mental well-being. We hypothesized that protective guidelines set in place to prevent COVID-19 infection would decrease children’s time spent in greenspaces, adversely impacting mental well-being. We also investigated changes in children’s time spent outdoors during the pandemic, the social and structural barriers to accessing local greenspaces, and the potential impacts on children’s mental health in Durham, North Carolina, USA. An online survey was distributed via parent Facebook groups to collect data (n = 95 children). The Pediatric Symptom Checklist (PSC) was used as a proxy for indicating children’s mental well-being. Most parents indicated a change in the amount of time spent outside during the pandemic. Children who spent more time outdoors in general, and children who spent more time outdoors during the pandemic, had lower PSC scores, indicating better mental well-being. When examining barriers to greenspace access, we observed no difference in the walkability index between higher- and lower-income zip codes. We did find that those residing in lower-income zip codes indicated more safety concerns about greenspaces particularly related to criminal activity. However, we found that the distribution of PSC scores was lower for children living in lower-income zip codes compared to higher-income zip codes, suggesting better mental well-being. Cumulatively, our results indicate that time spent outdoors has positive impacts on children’s mental health.


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