Land uses and land cover would explain the differentiated effects of the environment on human health

21 January 2021

Land use and land cover data are a versatile tool when studying the relationship between the environment and people’s health.


A recent research analyses the reliability of data on land uses and land cover and calls for new methodologies of study.


A team of researchers from ICTA-UAB, the Mathematical Research Centre (CRM), and the Forest Science and Technology Centre of Catalonia (CTFC) have led the research, which was published in the scientific journal Environmental Research.


The work reviews up to forty-one scientific articles that relate specific benefits to human health with data on land use and land cover. Although it demonstrates the reliability of these data, it is concluded that few of the articles reviewed exploit the full potential of this type of data.

“Land use and land cover data are a very versatile source of information to study the effects of the environment on human health since, unlike others, they collect the biophysical and socioeconomic characteristics of the territory. Its strength lies in the fact that, in the same database, it includes information on land cover, that is, whether we find trees, asphalt, bare ground, water… and also on land use, that is, the type of human activity that takes place in a specific place,” explains Quim Zaldo, lead author of the article and member of the Environment and Human Health Lab (EH2 Lab) of the CTFC.

The study proposes using specific categories of land use and land cover

The research team has verified that in the methodologies of study of the investigations carried out so far on this subject, natural elements are measured quantitatively on the basis of what they call percentage of green space, a data that according to Zaldo “does not take into account its different characteristics, since green is heterogeneous”.

“In this sense, we claim a methodology able to address specific categories of land uses and cover, since living by the sea or river, or living next to an oak grove, can bring different effects on people’s health”, he adds.

The research proposes guidelines for future investigations

The study also provides a set of guidelines for future research. Firstly, it proposes to review the characterization and tools available to measure the environment, as well as to focus on exploring the whole potential of land use and land cover data, using methodologies that encompass both their biophysical and socioeconomic information.

In addition, they also call for innovative designs that are able to establish causal relationships between ecosystem typology and human health and to expand the current set of studied health benefits leveraging comprehensive and trustworthy health data sources.

CTFC and CRM are CERCA research centres of Catalonia.

More information:

ZALDO-AUBANELL, Q., SERRA, I., SARDANYÉS, J., ALSEDÀ, L., MANEJA, R., Reviewing the reliability of Land Use and Land Cover Data in studies relating human health to the environment, Environmental Research,

Photo by Luca Micheli on Unsplash


Last modified: 21 January 2021