The urban forest is a green infrastructure system that delivers multiple environmental, economic, social and health services, and functions in cities. Environmental benefits of urban trees are well understood, but no review to date has examined how urban trees affect human health. This review provides a comprehensive summary of existing literature on the health impacts of urban trees that can inform future research, policy, and nature-based public health interventions. A systematic search used keywords representing human health, environmental health, and urban forestry. Following screening and appraisal of several thousand articles, 201 studies were conceptually sorted into a three-part framework. Reducing Harm, representing 41% of studies, includes topics such as air pollution, ultraviolet radiation, heat exposure, and pollen. Restoring Capacities, at 31%, includes attention restoration, mental health, stress reduction, and clinical outcomes. Building Capacities, at 28%, includes topics such as birth outcomes, active living, and weight status. The studies that were reviewed show substantial heterogeneity in purpose and method yet indicate important health outcomes associated with people’s exposure to trees. This review will help inform future research and practice, and demonstrates why urban forest planning and management should strategically promote trees as a social determinant of public health.
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