If you have ever looked at a tree and felt more environmentally conscious, it might not be a coincidence.
That is according to the School of Population and Public Health’s newest faculty member, Assistant Professor Matilda van den Bosch, who is also an Assistant Professor with the Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences, and will be giving the first talk of the Occupational and Environmental Hygiene Seminar series for the new academic year on Friday, titled ‘Closing the gap between green and white: Using nature to improve health.’
Dr. van den Bosch, whose appointment started in July, co-wrote a theoretical paper published in BMC Public Health which posited the idea that seeing nature can trigger more environmentally conscious behaviour. What is not theoretical is the relationship between health and the environment, Dr. van den Bosch says, a relationship that covers several strata of ecosystem services, from the studies which show exposure to green spaces reduces stress, and affects mental health, to the research behind the heat-reducing impact of green spaces.
While working as a doctor in general practice and later in radiology in Sweden in the early and mid 2000s, Dr. van den Bosch read about a project involving health promotion and green spaces. With an already established interest in environmentalism, she decided to pursue this through a doctoral degree in landscape planning and public health, the first at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences to do so.
She worked at the University as a researcher and teacher until this year, when she made the move to Canada for family reasons. Dr. van den Bosch says she had been looking to join a more health-focused faculty and UBC was a good choice because of the medical and health faculty here, while the shared affiliation with the Faculty of Forestry made it a “dream position”, she says. Canada’s abundance of green spaces also helped.
Canada is an up-and-coming country when it comes to research in this area, she says, with some recent studies including SPPH Professor Michael Brauer’s and colleagues’ work. The lion’s share of research in the field has until now been conducted in the USA and Europe.
“I feel there’s a good opportunity, I think there’s an increased awareness of the importance of providing green spaces to people in times of increasing urbanization.”
Assistant Professor Matilda van den Bosch
With her time at UBC, Dr. van den Bosch says she aims to increase awareness in the general medical community that environmental health is a legitimate concern and an opportunity to change people’s health, and raise awareness of the health impact of forestry and environmental work. She also hopes to increase the research available on prevention plans and solutions to harmful exposures.
A career highlight for Dr. van den Bosch has been working with UN-bodies, for example on developing an urban green space indicator for the World Health Organization and on the Global Environmental Outlook for the UN Environmental Program.
“There’s the chance, working with these organizations, and together with other people’s engagement and support, to distribute the message and make a change for healthier environments and people.”
The field of environmental health has the potential to become more important and more recognized, given the impact of climate change and the degradation of the environment, Dr. van den Bosch says. The topic is so complex, it might be the case that new research designs and reevaluation of methodology, addressing the interrelated nature of threats and solutions, are needed.
“At the end of the day, we are totally dependent on healthy ecosystems.”
Assistant Professor Matilda van den Bosch
And as for her own environmental efforts? She drives a hybrid only when necessary and bikes or uses public transport otherwise, buys ecological and organic products, and her family rarely eats red meat.
“I’m no saint..but I do my sorting and try and raise my children to become environmentally aware individuals!”
Dr. van den Bosch’s seminar will be held in Room B151 of the SPPH Building on Friday 9th September from 12:30pm. For more information or to view the seminar online, click here.