By Dino Grandoni
Put down the apple. It’s the tree that may help keep the doctor away.
In urban areas, trees shade sidewalks, suck up air pollution, soften traffic noise — and are just plain nice to look at. And by taking climate-warming carbon out of the atmosphere, trees are good for the planet, too.
It turns out the health gains of all that greenery add up.
A recent study conducted in Portland, Ore., found that in neighborhoods where a nonprofit planted more trees, fewer people died.
The paper, by researchers at the U.S. Forest Service, adds to a budding body of research into the health benefits of living around greenery. Its findings amount to a prescription for policymakers to plant more trees.
“Urban trees are an essential part of our public health infrastructure, and they should be treated as such,” said Geoffrey Donovan, the Forest Service researcher who led the study published in the December issue of the journal Environment International.
For three decades, the Portland nonprofit Friends of Trees planted nearly 50,000 oaks, dogwoods and other arboreal species around the city, giving Donovan and his colleagues granular data on how its canopy has changed over time.
Using a mathematical model to control for factors such as race, income, age and education, the team found that for each 100 trees planted, there was roughly one fewer non-accidental death a year.
“Across the board, the benefits of trees are astounding,” said Yashar Vasef, executive director of Friends of Trees, which plants across six counties in Oregon and Washington. “And they come at a lower cost than many other solutions.”