Residential green space and child intelligence and behavior

Residential green space and child intelligence and behavior across urban, suburban, and rural areas in Belgium: A longitudinal birth cohort study of twins

by Esmée M. Bijnens, Catherine Derom, Evert Thiery, Steven Weyers, Tim S. Nawrot

Published in PLOS Medicine on August 18, 2020 —



Exposure to green space has beneficial effects on several cognitive and behavioral aspects. However, to our knowledge, no study addressed intelligence as outcome. We investigated whether the level of urbanicity can modify the association of residential green space with intelligence and behavior in children.

Methods and findings

This study includes 620 children and is part of the East Flanders Prospective Twin Survey (EFPTS), a registry of multiple births in the province of East Flanders, Belgium. Intelligence was assessed with the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Revised (WISC-R) in 620 children (310 twin pairs) between 7 and 15 years old. From a subset of 442 children, behavior was determined based on the Achenbach Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL). Prenatal and childhood residential addresses were geocoded and used to assign green space indicators. Mixed modeling was performed to investigate green space in association with intelligence and behavior while adjusting for potential confounding factors including sex, age, parental education, neighborhood household income, year of assessment, and zygosity and chorionicity.

We found that residential green space in association with both intelligence and behavior in children was modified by the degree of urbanicity (p < 0.001). In children living in an urban environment, multivariable adjusted mixed modeling analysis revealed that an IQR increment of residential green space (3,000-m radius) was associated with a 2.6 points (95% CI 1.4–3.9; p < 0.001) higher total intelligence quotient (IQ) and 2.0 points (95% CI −3.5 to −0.4; p = 0.017) lower externalizing behavioral score. In children residing in a rural or suburban environment, no association was found. A limitation of this study is that no information was available on school location and the potential for unmeasured confounding (e.g., time spend outdoors).


Our results indicate that residential green space may be beneficial for the intellectual and the behavioral development of children living in urban areas. These findings are relevant for policy makers and urban planners to create an optimal environment for children to develop their full potential.


This article was reviewed in The Guardian of August 24, 2020 ( It references several related studies, including in these articles:

Can urban greenspace have an effect on children’s behaviour?” The Guardian, October 28, 20016 (

Air pollution causes ‘huge’ reduction in intelligence, study reveals” The Guardian, August 27, 2018 (