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Why Chopping Down Trees Could Give You a Heart Attack

Science & Tech  (tags: illness, health, research, risks, safety, protection, prevention, warning, study, science, disease, death, trees, forests, discovery, environment, scientists, world, interesting )

- 2237 days ago -
New research finds a possible rise in human deaths where trees are scarce.


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JL A (281)
Tuesday February 5, 2013, 10:07 am

Why Chopping Down Trees Could Give You a Heart Attack
New research finds a possible rise in human deaths where trees are scarce.
By Alison Fairbrother
January 25, 2013

Why Chopping Down Trees Could Give You a Heart Attack
Turns out, massive deforestation isn't really all that good for your cardiovascular health. (Photo: Getty Images)

Trees store carbon, reduce toxins in the air, and even fight crime. Now add this to the list of incredible things they do for the planet: According to new research, trees may improve human health where they are plentiful.

But invasive insects, drought, wildfires, and climate change increasingly threaten the nation’s trees, which leads to an obvious conundrum: If trees boost health, what happens when they die en masse?

Dr. Geoffrey Donovan of the U.S. Forest Service set out to answer this question by making the most of a horrible blight on tree populations across the Midwestern United States. The emerald ash borer, an invasive insect that made its way to the U.S. from Asia, has killed 100 million ash trees since it was accidentally introduced in the late 1990s, mostly in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Entire streets lined with ash trees can become treeless when emerald ash borers descend on a neighborhood—borers kill nearly all the trees they infest.
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Donovan’s hypothesis was that if the presence of trees affects public health, than killing a lot of trees quickly would negatively impact health outcomes in neighborhoods where ash trees had largely disappeared.

He and his team pored over 18 years of data from 15 states, and found that their theory was correct. Americans living in neighborhoods most affected by the emerald ash borer suffered an additional 15,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease and 6,000 more deaths from lower respiratory disease compared to areas that were not afflicted.

“That affect got worse the longer the bug had been in that county,” Donovan said in an interview with TakePart.

The researchers controlled for demographic differences, like income, race, and education—all factors that are known to influence health outcomes. Interestingly, they found that the absence of trees affected wealthy neighborhoods disproportionately.

“Wealthier counties tend to have better more trees and better maintained trees. If you are getting a bigger public health benefit when the trees were there, then you would expect a larger negative affect when they’re not,” Donovan said.

Donovan is quick to point out at the study does not imply a causal link between the loss of trees and increased human deaths due to cardiovascular and lower respiratory disease. But the research does provide valuable evidence of a pattern—one that deserves further exploration.

“There seems to be this fundamental relationship between exposure to natural environments and human well-being,” Donovan said. “We need to not just think about trees as being nice in the neighborhood or keeping you cool on a hot day. Maybe we should start thinking about trees as part of our public health infrastructure.”
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William Anderegg, a biologist at Stanford University who was not involved in the study, says Donovan’s research is “suggestive and intriguing,” in that it finds interesting patterns, but would be hard to use as definitive proof that dying trees lead to more human deaths. Proving a causal relationship is the hard part. “The study is relatively unique at looking at wide-scale ecosystem change and trying to correlate it to wide-scale public health outcomes,” Anderegg said.

Previous studies have examined the link between trees and smaller-scale health outcomes. Pioneering research found that the recovery of hospital patients after surgery was affected by how much of the natural environment patients saw outside their windows. Patients who looked out at trees during their time in the hospital experienced reduced stress, faster recovery times, and decreased use of strong painkillers than patients whose view was of a brick wall.

Anderegg believes that some of today's most encouraging forestry research connects trees to larger socio-economic and public health trends, providing a much needed antithesis to gloom and doom stories of forest loss. “There is really a lot of potential to use trees as part of the solution to some of the problems we face: smart management of forests could help minimize climate change; positive health affects can come from urban green spaces in cities and the replanting of trees,” he said. “We’re only starting to really appreciate what those positive benefits are. My hope is that we’ll make greater use of them in the future.”

Autumn S (151)
Tuesday February 5, 2013, 10:26 am
thanks, J. L.

Kit B (276)
Tuesday February 5, 2013, 10:34 am

I had to go to VISIT SITE and see the Tree Gallery - beautiful trees. I also too the pledge and shared it on tweeter, invasive species like Kudzu are also responsible for blanketing many areas and preventing trees from getting much needed sunlight, while also strangling the life source of trees.

JL A (281)
Tuesday February 5, 2013, 11:05 am
You are welcome Autumn.
You cannot currently send a star to Kit because you have done so within the last week.

Past Member (0)
Tuesday February 5, 2013, 11:44 am
interesting article Everyone knows trees are oxygen but people still cut them down You think they would have got more sense by now and plant more than they cut down with the rising populations everywhere
Thanks JL

Past Member (0)
Tuesday February 5, 2013, 12:02 pm
I better say goodbye now, cause I am a goner. In the area where I was raised and go there often-------they don't bother to chop-------they bring in the bulldozers and mow the whole area down--------then they put up their cabins so the hunters have a place to stay while they chase down all the deer. Nare I say "Karma is a bitch" Thanks JL

JL A (281)
Tuesday February 5, 2013, 12:36 pm
You are welcome Carol and Gypsy. Thank you both for adding insights related to the article!
You cannot currently send a star to Carol because you have done so within the last week.
You cannot currently send a star to Gypsy because you have done so within the last week.

Angelika R (143)
Tuesday February 5, 2013, 1:48 pm
Thx JL. But there was NO suggestion that linked the death perhaps to those BUGS and not simply the missing trees afterwards, hm.. would that not also be possible? And yes, beautiful trees there!
Gee, sounds like Gypsy lives right in hell..

Melania P (123)
Tuesday February 5, 2013, 2:20 pm
No surprise.... We have to be connected to nature!! Thanks

JL A (281)
Tuesday February 5, 2013, 2:46 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Angelika because you have done so within the last week.

JL A (281)
Tuesday February 5, 2013, 3:00 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Melania because you have done so within the last week.

Roger G (148)
Tuesday February 5, 2013, 3:08 pm
noted, thanks !

JL A (281)
Tuesday February 5, 2013, 3:39 pm
You're welcome Roger!

Mitchell D (82)
Tuesday February 5, 2013, 5:46 pm
Take it from an old tree climber and hugger, this is an interesting read.

JL A (281)
Tuesday February 5, 2013, 5:51 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Mitchell because you have done so within the last week.

Ben O (135)
Wednesday February 6, 2013, 1:18 am
Maybe we will learn about the importance of trees some day...?
-The best time to plant a tree was 50 years ago, the secondbest time is now!
(I have planted a thousand trees so far...)

Sam E M (0)
Wednesday February 6, 2013, 3:57 am
Very interesting article, thanks J.L.
The tree in that photo is a real beauty, I could gaze at it for ages and let my spirit wander :).

Past Member (0)
Wednesday February 6, 2013, 5:24 am
Interesting thanks. Maybe this article should be sent to all those ignorant baffoons terrorizing our forests and killing our trees!!!

Lydia Weissmuller Price (181)
Wednesday February 6, 2013, 7:07 am
We are destroying ourselves along with every other living thing on this planet. It's very sad. I have always loved trees.

S S (0)
Wednesday February 6, 2013, 12:14 pm
Thank you.

JL A (281)
Wednesday February 6, 2013, 12:48 pm
You are welcome Shanti.

marie C (163)
Wednesday February 6, 2013, 4:02 pm
Oh Gypsy how dreadful for you my heart goes out to you and we are so helpless
Sadly so many of us learn when it is too late

Shirley B (5)
Wednesday February 6, 2013, 4:19 pm
Thank you J.L., The slideshow was wonderful and informative. A new tree should always be planted when a diseased tree must be removed. In our area the threat of large old trees coming down in storms is a great threat. Many are too large for the properties and one levelled a house down the street. People with small suburban properties should remove some of them and plant varieties that are scaled to the areas they will grow in. In this way there can be more trees that do not get scavenged because of power lines, etc.

Christine Stewart (134)
Wednesday February 6, 2013, 6:21 pm
Plant more trees!

JL A (281)
Wednesday February 6, 2013, 6:24 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Christine because you have done so within the last week.

Gvapo T (22)
Friday February 8, 2013, 10:45 am
plant more trees
plant trees wherever you can or at least donate to the NGO's (like Trees for the future here on Care2) who will do that for you.

if everyone on this site donate only 1 dollar per year... just calculate... with trees for the future 1 dollar is 10 seeds that will one day be trees:

21,570,892 members doing good! x 1 Dollar (10 seeds/trees) = 215 708 920 planted trees in only one year
More than 200 million trees!

And I am sure that some of us can do more
I did :D

Gvapo T (22)
Friday February 8, 2013, 10:46 am
Sending a Green Star is a simple way to say "Thank you"
You cannot currently send a star to J.L. because you have done so within the last week.

JL A (281)
Friday February 8, 2013, 12:00 pm
Great ideas Gvapo! And thanks for wanting to send me a star (I am also unable to send you one at this time).

Onita Northington (44)
Saturday February 9, 2013, 1:44 pm
Interesting article and strange and beautiful trees!

Sergio P (65)
Tuesday February 12, 2013, 8:00 am

JL A (281)
Tuesday February 12, 2013, 8:42 am
You are welcome Sergio
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