Living close to the sea could support better mental health in England’s poorest urban communities, finds a new study.
Researchers from the University of Exeter used survey data from nearly 26,000 respondents in their analysis, which marks one of the most detailed investigations ever into the wellbeing effects of being beside the sea.
After taking other related factors into account, the study revealed that living in large towns and cities near to England’s coastline is linked with better mental health for those in the lowest earning households.
By The Sea
Approximately one in six adults in England suffer from mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression, and these are far more likely in people from poorer backgrounds. The findings suggest that access to the coast could help to reduce these health inequalities in towns and cities close to the sea.
The research used data from the Health Survey for England and compared people’s health to their proximity to the coast; from those living less than 1km away, to those more than 50km away. Its findings add to the growing evidence that access to blue spaces — particularly coastal environments — might improve health and wellbeing.
“Our research suggests, for the first time, that people in poorer households living close to the coast experience fewer symptoms of mental health disorders. When it comes to mental health, this ‘protective’ zone could play a useful role in helping to level the playing field between those on high and low income,”
said Dr. Jo Garrett, who led the study and believes the results could have important implications.
The report represents the first time the benefits of coastal living have been demonstrated at such a detailed level according to income, and comes as Natural England prepares to open access to all of England’s Coast Path by 2020. With everywhere in England within 70 miles of the sea, more people could harness the wellbeing benefits of living near to the coast thanks to improved access.
“This kind of research into blue health is vital to convincing governments to protect, create and encourage the use of coastal spaces. We need to help policy makers understand how to maximise the wellbeing benefits of ‘blue’ spaces in towns and cities and ensure that access is fair and inclusive for everyone, while not damaging our fragile coastal environments,”
Dr. Mathew White, environmental psychologist at the University of Exeter, said.
The work was supported by the National Institute for Health Research Health Protection Research Unit (NIHR HPRU) in Environmental Change and Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in partnership with Public Health England (PHE), and in collaboration with the University of Exeter, University College London, and the Met Office.
 Joanne K. Garrett, Theodore J. Clitherow, Mathew P. White, Benedict W. Wheeler, Lora E. Fleming. Coastal proximity and mental health among urban adults in England: The moderating effect of household income. Health & Place, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.healthplace.2019.102200
 D. Nutsford, A.L. Pearson, S. Kingham, F. Reitsma. Residential exposure to visible blue space (but not green space) associated with lower psychological distress in a capital city. Health Place, 39 (2016), pp. 70-78