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New Research Shows Native Trees Vital For Our People’s Health

AIA NZ’s 5590+ report, released last week, evidences the increasing importance of the environment for our health and wellbeing. The report cites lack of environmental interaction as one of five risk factors that lead to the five most common non-communicable diseases: these NCDs represent more than 90% of deaths in New Zealand.

"The environment is being increasingly recognised as a cause of disease, with research showing links between non-communicable diseases and environmental factors such as air pollution, climate change, agriculture, and urbanisation," says Nick Stanhope, CEO, AIA New Zealand.

"We cannot thrive in an unhealthy environment, while the environment cannot thrive when our behaviours aren’t healthy."

Internationally, 23% of all deaths (about 12.6 million deaths per year) are linked to the environment: and nearly two-thirds of the annual deaths caused by the environment are due to NCDs (WHO, 2017).

At home in Aotearoa, the report shows that more than a third of New Zealanders are concerned about environmental risk contributing to a non-communicable disease later in life. Furthermore, half of Kiwis are concerned that climate change and poor air quality will affect their health in the future.

The 5590+ report also affirms the importance of each individual’s actions in positively affecting the environment. "Every one of us can improve our impact on the environment, which in turn improves the impact of the environment on our health. While changes at an individual level may seem small, if we all modify even a few behaviours, we can collectively have a significant and positive impact," says Nick.

An excellent example of this behaviour is the commitment to support Aotearoa’s native trees: whether it’s by planting (which brings its own plethora of health benefits), donating native trees to community planting groups, or gifting a native tree to a loved one through Trees That Count. The health of New Zealand’s native trees is vital to not only environmental ecosystems, but also the health of our people.

"In today’s context, native trees are often talked about for their potential long-term carbon sequestration and climate change mitigation," says Melanie Seyfort, Head of Partnerships for Trees That Count. "However, they’re also producing positive impacts for our climate right here and now: providing shelter, and ameliorating local temperatures.

Likewise, native trees protect our water and air quality. They contribute to green infrastructure, alleviating flooding and protecting our water quality from urban pollution and excess nutrients from intensive agriculture. Their absorption of air pollutants results in lower incidences of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, fewer hospital admissions and lower health costs.

In particular, a 2018 study following 49,956 New Zealand children demonstrated that exposure to natural vegetation can protect against asthma in children. Less quantifiable, but just as significant, are the cultural, spiritual, and mental wellness values that native forests can provide.

There has been a wealth of international research on the importance of nature for human wellbeing. In the New Zealand context, the strong link between human health and the surrounding environment has been described under the concept of waiora (health, or holistic wellness, in Te Reo Māori).

Native forests are playgrounds for us and our visitors alike. A 2015 survey of walking access showed that for 88% of New Zealanders, spending time in the outdoors was an important part of their life: and forests featured highly when these respondents were questioned about the types of areas visited.

It is also now recognised that restoration of habitat and natural biodiversity by community volunteers contributes to their wellbeing and is a unifying force in communities. From personal experience, it’s true: there’s no better feel-good moment than putting a native seedling in the ground."

The 5590 report, likewise, backs native trees as "the simplest, most impactful, and cost-effective way we can help to improve the environment in which we live." AIA NZ demonstrates their research in action by supporting Trees That Count: so far they have funded more than 5,000 native trees which have been distributed to community planting projects from Waiheke Island to Arrowtown. AIA Vitality members can also choose to donate their weekly Active Rewards to Trees That Count.

It’s simple to follow AIA’s example and back our native trees. Businesses can explore options for funding native trees-everything from straightforward donations to gifting native trees to staff or clients for Christmas. Individuals can donate or gift a native tree: every single one counts for our environment, and, as 5590+ evidences, for our people.

More about Trees That Count

Trees That Count is a programme of charitable organisation Project Crimson Trust. Trees That Count runs the country’s first native tree marketplace which connects funded and gifted trees to deserving community groups, iwi, local councils, schools and individuals looking to strengthen their own planting projects.

Trees That Count is generously supported by The Tindall Foundation, alongside the thousands of businesses and individuals who are donating through the marketplace.

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