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Green Space and Childhood Autism
Wu, J. AND L. Jackson. Green Space and Childhood Autism. American Association of Geographers, Boston, MA, April 05 - 09, 2017.
To present cross-sectional eco-health study results at national geography conference
Autism, a group of complex neurodevelopmental disorders typically identified in early childhood, affects more than 3 million people in the U.S. To date, the cause of autism is unclear. It is believed that autism results from a combination of genetic and environmental factors including pesticides, air pollutants and heavy metals. Green space (e.g., trees and parks) exerts positive influences on the health of both children and expectant mothers through direct and indirect pathways, such as promoting physical activity and social contact, and mitigating noise and traffic-related air pollution. However, epidemiological studies on the possible effect of green space on childhood autism are rare. In this study, we hypothesized that green space, particularly near-road tree canopy, has a statistically significant beneficial impact on autism prevalence among children. Using information from EnviroAtlas, an interactive mapping tool to connect ecosystem services with human health, we linked fine-scale green space data to autism data from the California Special Education Management Information System (CASEMIS). We observed negative associations between green space metrics and autism rate in school districts with high road density. After adjusting for socioeconomic confounders, we found that increases of 1% in forest and grassland were each associated with a decrease in autism rate of approximately 1%, and that an increase in near-road tree canopy by 1% was associated with a 2% decrease in autism rate. These findings demonstrate the potential for green space to mitigate childhood autism risk by elementary school district, and support further research at residential and other scales.