A new study, led by two EU-funded research projects – ATHLETE and LongITools, spanning nine European countries, investigates how access to green spaces might improve health by subtly influencing how our genes work.

Two children playing in a park

Exposure to green spaces has been linked to improved mental and general health. However, access to green spaces has decreased due to increasing urbanisation, with more than half of the population, including 1.5 billion children, now living in urban areas. Studies suggest more green spaces in European cities could prevent many premature deaths. They can also mitigate exposure to air and noise pollution. Despite these benefits, we still know very little about how green spaces affect our biology.  

Understanding the health benefits of green spaces 

Researchers from two research projects, which are a part of the European Human Exposome Network, investigated the potential influence of green spaces on DNA methylation, a biological process that affects how our genes work without altering our genetic code. Abnormal patterns in this process can lead to negative health outcomes, including cancer and cardiovascular disease.  

Using data from 2,988 newborns and 1,849 children from nine countries in Europe, researchers studied associations between exposure to green spaces during pregnancy and DNA methylation, both at birth and later in childhood. 

How our environment impacts our genes 

The research, published in Environmental International, found that exposure to surrounding green spaces during pregnancy is linked to differences in DNA methylation in certain regions of the genome. This might provide clues as to why access to green spaces benefits health, however more research is needed to better understand which genes and biological pathways are affected.  

This study adds to our understanding of the human exposome, a unique approach to studying the different forms of environmental pollution people are exposed to from pregnancy onwards. By researching the exposome, scientists can help inform policies that improve public health, such as increasing green spaces in cities.  

Read the full study 


Sofia Aguilar-Lacasaña, Irene Fontes Marques et al. Green space exposure and blood DNA methylation at birth and in childhood – A multi-cohort study. Environment International, Volume 188, 2024, 108684.