Research highlight

Environment: Value of national parks’ impact on mental health estimated

Nature Communications

November 13, 2019

National parks could provide an economic value of around US $6 trillion per year globally in the improved mental health of their visitors according to initial estimates in a Perspective published in Nature Communications. The findings are based on calculations from pilot studies and more detailed analysis is required to refine the estimates.

The economic costs of poor mental health include treatment, care and reduced workplace productivity. The health-related benefits of spending time in nature are thought to include improved attention, cognition, sleep and stress recovery, but it is unknown what the economic value of national parks is in terms of their impact on the mental health of their visitors.

Ralf Buckley and colleagues set out to calculate the health service value provided by national parks. Using a concept called quality-adjusted life years, which measures a person’s ability to carry out the activities of daily life free from pain and mental disturbance, they estimated the economic value of national parks using data collected from a representative sample of the Australian population in the states of Queensland and Victoria (19,674). They used these data to estimate the value for the whole of Australia and globally. The authors found that there was a direct link between visits to protected areas and individual mental health. For Australia, they estimated that the health services value of Australia’s national parks was around US $100 billion per year. They observed that currently the costs of poor mental health in Australia amount to approximately 10% of GDP and their estimates indicate that without protected areas, these costs could be 7.5% higher.

Please note that this press release refers to a Perspective, not a Nature Communications research article. A Perspective is intended to provide a forum for authors to discuss models and ideas from a personal viewpoint. Perspectives are peer reviewed.

doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-12631-6

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