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The relation between trees and human health: evidence from the spread of the emerald ash borer



Geoffrey Donovan, David Butry, Yvonne Michael, Jeffrey P. Prestemon, Andrew Liebhold, Demetrios Gatziolis, Megan Mao


Background: Exposure to the natural environment may improve human health. However, existing research is limited by the use of cross-sectional study designs. Objectives: We made use of a unique natural experiment—the spread of the emerald ash borer, an invasive forest pest first identified in North America in 2002 —to quantify the relation between the widespread destruction of a common tree and cardiovascular and lower-respiratory mortality. Methods: We used county-level mortality data from the National Center for Health Statistics, socio-economic data from the US Census and the American Community Survey, data on the spread of the emerald ash borer from the US Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Inspection Service, and National Land Cover data to estimate the effect of emerald ash borer presence on county-level mortality from 1990 to 2007 in 15 US states. Results: We found that counties infested with emerald ash borer had higher levels of cardiovascular and lower-respiratory mortality. The magnitude of this effect was greater as an infestation progressed and in counties with above average median- household income. Across the 15 states in our study area, emerald ash borer was associated with 6113 additional lower- respiratory deaths and 15 080 cardiovascular deaths. Conclusions: Our results suggest that trees are associated with reduced risk of mortality due to cardiovascular and lower- respiratory disease. This adds to the growing evidence that the natural environment provides major public-health benefits.
American Journal of Preventive Medicine


Donovan, G. , Butry, D. , Michael, Y. , Prestemon, J. , Liebhold, A. , Gatziolis, D. and Mao, M. (2013), The relation between trees and human health: evidence from the spread of the emerald ash borer, American Journal of Preventive Medicine (Accessed February 22, 2024)
Created January 7, 2013, Updated October 12, 2021