Does Living Near Places to Play, Take Out Food, and Liquor Stores Affect Mental Health?

A new study from the University of Canterbury assessing the relationship between the mental health of young people and where they grow up could influence urban and rural planning.

UC researchers are mapping localities and studying whether living near places to play, take out food and liquor stores, or green and blue areas like parks and rivers is related to the Mental Health.

UC public health lecturer Matt Hobbs, who is a co-investigator on the project, told RNZ’s Nine to Noon that research often focuses on individual aspects, but mental health is complex with multiple influences.

“One of those influences is the environment in which a young person grows up.

“What we do is take a representative sample of one million New Zealand young adults and we look at the whole country.

“Times have changed in the way we interact with our environment, but what interests us in particular is our current day and what our current environments mean to our young people. “

Hobbs says the increase in alcohol, gambling, and fast food spaces over the years has pushed people in the wrong direction to make healthy choices.

“We have children from 10 to 24 years old [in the research], so across that spectrum there is obviously a shift where young people can access game and liquor stores themselves once they are 18 and enter adulthood.

“What we do is say if we have a park, which is great in our neighborhood, but it’s surrounded by liquor stores and places where kids can go to play, or even places like fast food outlets or dairies what it means is that all of these things can combine to influence a young person’s mental health.

“We’re going to take into account the whole neighborhood and many different characteristics within a neighborhood and how they relate to a child’s mental health. “

The research will also divide mental health issues into groups, looking at emotional, behavioral, self-harm and substance abuse issues in people.

“What we’re saying is that there may be particular types of environments that are particularly important for depression and anxiety about self-harm,” says Hobbs.

It is hoped that this research will help community advocates persuade policy makers to take it into account and include the results of the two-year study in future planning.

“By changing the environment, this reflects recent government health reforms that have shifted focus from treatment to prevention,” Hobbs said.

“We can make structural changes to our environments around us to try to better promote public health, as we should not leave it to individuals, families or communities to change the environment in which they live, we must lead it.

“If we provide the evidence to support this, [we can] drive these changes.

One in four young Kiwis has a mental health problem before the age of 18, with Maori and Pasifika being over-represented.

Hobbs says underprivileged populations often lived near spaces deemed unhealthy.

Research mapping showed that there were pockets in large urban areas, especially Christchurch and Auckland, where there was good access to liquor, gambling venues and fast food outlets, but not enough. “green” and “blue” spaces.

“We are trying to determine if this potential combination is not good for the mental health of young people? “

In the exploratory results of their research proposal, Hobbs says that when they aligned their maps with mental health issues in a particular area, there seemed to be an overlap.

But he says the full results have yet to be examined in detail for a final report.

The research is funded by A Better Start and Cure Kids.

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