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BACKGROUND: Increased urbanisation and the associated reduced contact of individuals with natural environments have led to a rise in mental disorders, including depression. Residential greenness, a fundamental component of urban design, has been shown to reduce the public health burden of mental disorders. The present study investigates the association between residential green exposure and prevalence of major depressive disorders using a large and diverse cross-sectional dataset from the UK Biobank. METHODS: In this cross-sectional, observational, associational study, we used baseline data from the UK Biobank cohort of participants aged 37-73 years from across the UK. Environmental exposure data were derived from a modelled and linked built environment database. Residential greenness was assessed with a 0·5 m resolution Normalised Difference Vegetation Index, which is derived from spectral reflectance measurements in remotely sensed colour infrared data and measured within geocoded dwelling catchments. Other environment metrics included street-level movement density, terrain, and fine particulate exposures. A series of logistic models examined associations between residential greenness and odds of major depressive disorder after adjusting for activity-influencing environments and individual covariates. FINDINGS: Of 122 993 participants with data on major depressive disorder, the study analytical sample comprised 94 879 (77·1%) participants recruited across ten UK Biobank assessment centres between April 29, 2009, and Oct 1, 2010. A protective effect of greenness on depression was consistently observed, with 4·0% lower odds of major depressive disorder per interquartile increment in Normalised Difference Vegetation Index greenness (odds ratio 0·960, 95% CI 0·93-0·99; p=0·0044). Interaction analyses indicated that the beneficial effects of greenness were more pronounced among women, participants younger than 60 years, and participants residing in areas with low neighbourhood socioeconomic status or high urbanicity. INTERPRETATION: The results point to the benefits of well designed green environments on mental health. Further longitudinal studies are needed to decipher causal pathways. In the UK, policies aimed at optimising allocation and design of green spaces might help preserve psychological ecosystem services, thereby, improving the mental wellbeing of populations and enhancing the mental capital of cities. FUNDING: University of Hong Kong, UK Biobank, and the UK Economic & Social Research Council.

Original publication




Journal article


Lancet Planet Health

Publication Date





e162 - e173