Aug. 17 (UPI) -- According to new research, children who live closer to forests are more likely to eat healthier, more nutritious foods.
"The data show that forests aren't just correlated with improvements in people's diets," Ranaivo Rasolofoson, a scientist at the University of Vermont, said in a news release. "We show that forests cause these improvements."
In developing countries, some argue trees must make way for farms and gardens to boost nutrition. But the latests findings, published this week in the journal Science Advances, suggest the opposite.
Many children in developing countries consume inadequate amounts of vitamin A, sodium, iron and calcium. Micronutrient deficiencies can lead to brain damage, stunted growth and death.
Previous studies have found similar correlations, but lacked sophisticated statistical analysis. Authors of the newest study studied a wider range of households from several developing countries in Africa and Southeast Asia. They accounted for many variables that could mitigate or artificially enhance the connection between forest and nutrition.
Their analysis showed similar households across a variety of developing countries were more likely to eat a healthier, more diverse diet if they lived closer to a forest.
Scientists found forests provided families with food directly. Forest products also helped nearby families earn money to buy more nutritious foods. Wild pollinators in forests also boosted the productivity local gardens. Additionally, mothers in families living near forests were more likely to have enough free time to buy and prepare healthier meals.
The analysis showed the positive dietary effects offered by forests are most pronounced for poorer families.
"This study is a wake-up call that people who work on forest conservation and those that work on improving children's health should be working together and coordinating what they do," said Brendan Fisher, a fellow at Vermont's Gund Institute. "We are now seeing a lot more examples of how an integrated approach to some of the world's most pressing problems pays double dividends."