Natural space is associated with reduced risk of, and narrower socioeconomic inequalities in, diseases that affect older populations, and some contributors to premature mortality in younger individuals. Burden of disease measures such as years of life lost (YLL) are influenced by premature poor health and death. We hypothesised some association between natural space and both rates of and inequalities in YLL might be present.
The outcome data were the YLL component from Scottish Burden of Disease 2016, provided at small-area level (datazone) for males and females under 65 years of age in Scotland, UK. Exposure variables were the percentages of land cover within each datazone defined as ‘natural space’ (NS), and ‘natural space and private gardens’ (NSG). Together with a measure of area income deprivation, these were fitted in a multilevel Poisson model accounting for intra-datazone level variation, and spatial autocorrelation between datazones.
An increased percentage cover of NSG was associated with lower YLL in males (incident rate ratio (IRR) 0.993, 95% credible interval (CrI) 0.989 to 0.997) and females (IRR 0.993, CrI 0.987 to 0.998); each 10% increase of natural space cover was associated with a 7% decrease in the incidence rate. An increased amount of natural space within local areas was associated with reduced disparity in YLL between the most and least income deprived areas.
The health benefits of natural space also apply when indicators sensitive to health events at younger ages are used. An increased amount of natural space within local areas has the potential to reduce the disparity in YLL between the most and least income deprived areas—the ‘equigenic’ effect.