Green areas and students’ academic performance in the Federal District, Brazil: An assessment of three greenness metrics

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Most of the epidemiological investigations looking at the health benefits of green spaces have measured the level of green areas by using only one approach, mainly the Normalized Difference Index – NDVI (a satellite-derived indicator). We hypothesized a difference in the association between health and green space depending on the metric used to measure green exposure. This study considers students’ academic performance as a proxy of cognitive abilities (a health indicator). We estimated the relationship between green areas and students’ academic performance in the Federal District (FD), Brazil, with three different greenness metrics: NDVI, distance to green spaces (m) - obtained from land use data, and quantity of green spaces (m2 ) - also from land use data. We assessed student-level academic performance data provided by the Department of the Education in the FD. The data includes students from the public schools in the FD for 256 schools (all the public schools in the FD) and 344,175 students (all the students enrolled in the public schools in the FD in 2017–2020).). For the first metric represented by the distance to green spaces, we estimated the straight-line distance between each school and the nearest green area. For NDVI and quantity of green spaces, we estimated the area of all green spaces within buffers of 500 m, 750 m, and 1 km around the schools. We applied a cross-sectional study design using mixedeffects regression models to analyze the association exposure to green areas around schools and student-level academic performance. Our results confirmed our hypothesis showing that the impact of green areas on students’ performance varied significantly depending on the type of green metric. After adjustments for the covariates, we estimated that NDVI is positively associated with school-level academic performance, with an estimated coefficient of 0.91 (95%CI: 0.83; 0.99) for NDVI values at a school’s centroid. Distance to green areas was negatively associated with academic performance [-2.09 × 10− 5 (95CI: 3.91 × 10− 5 ; − 2.84 × 10− 6 ]. The quantity of green areas was estimated with mixed results (direction of the association), depending on the buffer size. Results from this paper suggest that epidemiological investigations must consider the different effects of greenness measures when looking at the association between green space and academic performance. More studies on residual confounding from this association with a different study design are needed to promote public health by making schools healthier.

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