Lonely Planet Writer

People who live near national parks are healthier and even wealthier

According to a new study, living next to a national park might be good for your health and wellbeing.

The Joshua Tree National Park in California. Image: Chon Kit Leong/Alamy Stock Photo

The study, published in Science Advances, shows that households near ‘protected areas’ – national parks, wilderness areas or nature reserves – had higher levels of wealth and a lower likelihood of poverty than similar households far from protected areas. Children who lived near protected areas were also taller for their age than those who lived far from protected areas.

To draw their conclusions, the researchers looked at 60,000 households in 34 developing countries around the world. Comparing data from households that lived within 10km of a protected area to households that lived far from protected areas, researchers found a range of benefits associated with living near conservation areas. Households that lived near a protected area had 17% higher levels of wealth and a 16% lower likelihood of poverty. Additionally, children under the age of 5 were 10% taller than their counterparts who lived far away from protected areas.

Yosemite National Park, California. Scientists have found that living near a national park is good for you. Photo by: alexroch/Shutterstock

Researchers were careful to point out that simply living next to a protected area might not be enough to have a positive impact on health and wellbeing. They must also have access to those protected spaces.

Drew Gerkey, an assistant professor of anthropology at OSU who co-authored the study, says areas where local residents have access to the protected spaces, so-called ‘multiple-use areas,’ show the best improvements in health and wellbeing. ‘The multiple-use areas are where you see a lot of the positive impacts for people’s health and wealth,’ Gerkey says. ‘The boundaries are relaxed in a way that allows local people to access resources but doesn’t impinge on the larger goal of conservation.’

The Clingmans Dome overlook tower, on the Appalachian Trail, in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo by: George Rose/Getty Images

According to the study, communities near protected areas likely benefit from the tourism that draws outsiders to them, in the form of employment opportunities and greater income. Communities that see greater access to protected areas might also benefit from improved environmental conditions and a greater abundance of animals and plants that can be harvested or purchased in nearby markets.

‘Although people living near a protected area may benefit from long-term conservation, studies have also shown that protected areas sometimes deny people access to resources they depend on,’ says Gerkey. ‘Our study examines this dilemma at a global scale and suggests these protected areas have overall positive impacts on the people living nearby, under certain kinds of conditions.’