The European Union’s project to study the health effects of urban lighting starts this month


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While the cities of the European Union (EU) have worked to improve urban lighting services, this has mainly focused on efficiency, cost reduction and emission reduction. However, no consideration was given to the impact urban lighting can have on the health and wellbeing of citizens. This will be the focus of the new ENLIGHTENme research project, a collaboration between 22 international partners from 10 countries. The project is funded under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program and will receive EUR 5 million over the next four years. ENLIGHTENme is coordinated by the University of Bologna in Italy. Together with five other projects, ENLIGHTENme is part of the new EU cluster “Urban Health”.

With the growing world population and increasing urbanization comes an underestimated by-product: increasing human exposure to electric light at night. This includes public outdoor lighting, the artificial sky light that is generated by highly urbanized areas, but also lighting on an individual level, such as. B. Household lighting and light emitting screens. Inappropriate and disruptive exposure at night or too little exposure during the day significantly impair the daily rhythm, health and well-being of people. Older adults over 65 years of age, in particular, are prone to effects, affecting epigenetics and metabolism, as well as predisposition to diseases such as cancer, neurodegeneration, and psychiatric disorders. Knowledge of the health effects and guidelines for appropriate urban lighting strategies can significantly counteract these developments.

This is where ENLIGHTENme comes in: the ENLIGHTENme team brings together experts from various scientific fields and sectors such as urban development and health research and aims to collect evidence on the effects of outdoor and indoor lighting on human health, especially in the elderly is particularly prone to circadian misalignment. In addition, ENLIGHTENme has set itself the goal of developing and testing innovative solutions and strategies that compensate for health inequalities in European cities.

“A transdisciplinary approach is central to the success of ENLIGHTENme, combining strong expertise from different areas and subject areas: clinical and biomedical sciences, ethics and responsible research and innovation (RRI), accessibility and interoperability of data, and social and economic sciences. Together we will shed light on a multitude of relevant aspects and relationships such as mental health, lighting design, urban development and planning, well-being and quality of life as well as technological development and application. Implementing innovative lighting strategies, the cost-effectiveness and health impacts of which will be assessed through a population-based study and qualitative field research, will make it possible to assess the consequences of proposed solutions and choices made in non-health sectors for public health and wellbeing “, says Dr. Simona Tondelli, professor at the Institute of Architecture at the University of Bologna and coordinator of the ENLIGHTENme consortium, in a press release.

Through an open online urban lighting and health atlas, ENLIGHTENme will collect and systematize existing data and best practices on urban lighting and conduct an in-depth study of the relationships between health, wellbeing, lighting and socio-economic factors. To this end, the project will carry out three in-depth studies in selected districts of Bologna (Italy), Amsterdam (Netherlands) and Tartu (Estonia). By setting up an “Urban Lighting Lab” in each target district of the three cities, the ENLIGHTENme team aims to identify a wide variety of relevant stakeholders, including citizens and city officials, to involve them in lighting and health issues, to educate them and to involve them in the design and evaluation of lighting innovations .

[RELATED: Nighttime Light Pollution Linked to Preterm Birth]

Ultimately, based on their research results, the ENLIGHTENme team aims to provide tools to support the decision-making process, which will enable the planning of healthy urban lighting policies and allow to identify priorities in interventions based on inequalities and light exposures in order to compare the effects of different lighting scenarios and define Criteria and technical requirements to be adopted to ensure the integration of health and wellbeing into urban lighting policy plans.

Says Tondelli: “ENLIGHTENme will not only improve the health of citizens in urban areas at the individual level, but it will also provide the evidence needed to shape policies to improve urban health at the political level. Equally important is reducing health inequalities by involving citizens who are not normally involved in developing urban lighting plans. “

The consortium consists of partner institutions from Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States. The project will officially begin its activities with a first virtual meeting from March 4-5, 2021.

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