Background Epidemiological studies on green space and health have relied almost exclusively on cross-sectional designs, restricting understanding on how this relationship could vary across the lifecourse.
Methods We used multilevel linear regression to analyse variation in minor psychiatric morbidity over nine annual waves of the British Household Panel Survey (1996–2004). The sample was restricted to residents of urban areas who remained within their neighbourhoods for at least 12 months. The 12-item General Health Questionnaire and confounders were reported for 29 626 male and 35 781 female observations (person-years). This individual-level dataset was linked to a measure of green space availability within each ward of residence. Regression models included age, gender, employment status, household tenure, marital status, education, smoking status and household income.
Results When not considering age, green space was associated with better mental health among men, but not women. Interaction terms fitted between age and green space revealed variation in the association between green space and mental health across the lifecourse and by gender. For men, the benefit of more green space emerged in early to mid-adulthood. Among older women, a curvilinear association materialised wherein those with a moderate availability of green space had better mental health.
Conclusions These findings illustrate how the relationship between urban green space and health can vary across the lifecourse, and they highlight the need for longitudinal studies to answer why green space may be better for health at some points in the lifecourse than others.