Dzhambov AM, Lercher P, Vincens N, Persson Waye K, Klatte M, Leist L, Lachmann T, Schreckenberg D, Belke C, Ristovska G, Kanninen KM, Botteldooren D, Van Renterghem T, Jeram S, Selander J, Arat A, White K, Julvez J, Clark C, Foraster M, van Kamp I. Protective effect of restorative possibilities on cognitive function and mental health in children and adolescents: a scoping review including the role of physical activity. Environ Res. 2023 Sep 15;233:116452. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2023.116452

BACKGROUND: The exposome approach can be a powerful tool for understanding the intertwining of social, physical, and internal influences that shape mental health and cognitive development throughout childhood. To distil conceptual models for subsequent analyses, the EU-funded project Early Environmental quality and Life-course mental health effects (Equal-Life) has conducted literature reviews on potential mediators linking the exposome to these outcomes. We report on a scoping review and a conceptual model of the role of restorative possibilities and physical activity.

METHODS: Peer-reviewed studies published since the year 2000 in English, on the association between the exposome and mental health/cognition in children/adolescents, and quantitatively investigating restoration/restorative quality as a mediating variable were considered. Database searches were last updated in December 2022. We used an unstructured expert-driven approach to fill in gaps in the reviewed literature.

RESULTS: Five records of three distinct studies were identified, indicating a scarcity of empirical evidence in this newly developing research area. Not only were these studies few in numbers, but also cross-sectional, lending only tentative support to the idea that perceived restorative quality of adolescent's living environment might mediate the association between greenspace and mental health. Physical activity emerged as a mediator leading to better psychological outcomes in restorative environments. We provide a critical discussion of potential caveats when investigating the restoration mechanism in children and propose a hierarchical model including restoration, physical activity, and relational dynamics between children and their environment, including social context, as well as restorative environments other than nature.

CONCLUSIONS: It is justified to further explore the role of restoration and physical activity as mediators in the association between early-life exposome and mental health/cognitive development. It is important to consider the child perspective and specific methodological caveats. Given the evolving conceptual definitions/operationalizations, Equal-Life will attempt to fill in a critical gap in the literature.

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