Forests Ontario

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A greener environment leads to leaner health care costs

TORONTO, February 16, 2012 – Trees are economic assets to the province of Ontario. A healthy natural environment has a direct connection to health care costs, particularly where preventable diseases and conditions are concerned. Our surrounding environment has a significant impact not only on the air we breathe, but on the choice of activities and recreation available to us as members of our community.

Last week, Trees Ontario released the publication A Healthy Dose of Green: A prescription for a healthy population at the 63rd Annual Ontario Forestry Association Conference. The paper highlights the growing body of evidence supporting the benefits of forest ecosystems for human health. Forests provide opportunities for physical activity, cardiovascular and respiratory health, cancer prevention, stress reduction and a wide array of other physical and mental health benefits.

Yesterday, the Drummond Report acknowledged that a significant portion of Ontario’s spiralling health care costs come from the lifestyles we lead. Recommendation 5-83 of the Report states bluntly, “Have doctors address diet and exercise issues before reaching for the prescription pad when dealing with health issues such as cardiovascular disease and late-onset Type 2 diabetes.”

Research indicates that physical activity has positive effects on both physical and mental health. Regular physical activity can reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, musculoskeletal problems and can be an effective treatment for depression and aid the recovery from invasive medical treatments.

In Canada, approximately 82 per cent of teenagers are not active enough to meet international guidelines for optimal growth and development. In 1999, physical inactivity resulted in $2.1 billion in direct nation-wide health care costs, accounting for 21% of  treatment costs for artery disease, stroke, high blood pressure, colon cancer, breast cancer, and diabetes.

Researchers around the world have observed positive associations between physical activity and the presence of green spaces (such as regional forests) in close proximity to residential areas.  By establishing natural spaces and enhancing forest cover through restoration activities, we can provide our children with more natural playgrounds, encouraging them to lead more physically active and healthy lives.

If Ontario aspires to reduce current health care costs, the province must adopt a multifaceted approach that emphasizes prevention, in addition to treatment. Sustainable environmental initiatives will have a significant impact in reducing the amount of money and resources devoted to preventative diseases and conditions.

A significant increase in the number of trees planted each year, on both rural and urban landscapes, may offer a unique and creative solution to this problem. Trees and forests not only offer more opportunities for recreation, but also protect us from exposure to pollutants such as carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter.

Download a copy of A Healthy Dose of Green.