Friday, January 18, 2013

Trees Linked to Human Health

A recent study conducted by researchers associated the presence of trees with human health. For Geoffrey Donovan, a research forester at the Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station, and his colleagues, the loss of 100 million trees in the eastern and Midwestern United States was an unprecedented opportunity to study the impact of a major change in the natural environment on human health.

In an analysis of 18 years of data from 1,296 counties in 15 states, researchers found that Americans living in areas infested by the emerald ash borer, a beetle that kills ash trees, suffered from an additional 15,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease and 6,000 more deaths from lower respiratory disease when compared to uninfected areas.

When emerald ash borer comes into a community, city streets lined with ash trees become treeless.

The researchers analyzed demographic, human mortality, and forest health data at the county level between 1990 and 2007. The data came from counties in states with at least one confirmed case of the emerald ash borer in 2010.

The findings hold true after accounting for the influence of demographic differences, like income, race, and education.

"There's a natural tendency to see our findings and conclude that, surely, the higher mortality rates are because of some confounding variable, like income or education, and not the loss of trees," Donovan said.

"But we saw the same pattern repeated over and over in counties with very different demographic makeups," he said.

Although the study shows the association between loss of trees and human mortality from cardiovascular and lower respiratory disease, it did not prove a causal link. The reason for the association is yet to be determined.

The emerald ash borer was first discovered near Detroit, Michigan, in 2002. The borer attacks all 22 species of North American ash and kills virtually all of the trees it infests.

The study has been published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

1 comment:

  1. I cannot but think there is a grace in making the connection between the loss of trees and a deterioration in human health. How lovely does one feel when one walks through a forest? How does the impact of driving through the tree-laden mountains cause ones' heart to soar with beauty and wonder? How sad and depressed one feels to see millions of trees being killed by beetles, brown and rotten? Or to see a beloved majestic old elm being sawn down into pieces right in front of your home, having been lost to Dutch Elm disease? It's like losing an old friend. Grief affects the lungs and the heart. The mere sight of a large tree inspires hope. The larger the tree, the greater the hope. This is the lesson I have learned in life about trees.