press release
Published: 04 March 2021

ENLIGHTENme - Innovative new study to investigate the impact of urban lighting on health and wellbeing

By Natasha Meredith

An international consortium, of which the University of Surrey is a key partner, is set  to investigate the impact of indoor and outdoor lighting on individual’s health and wellbeing and develop innovative policies to improve their quality of life.

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Growing populations worldwide and rising urbanisation has led to an increase of human exposure to electric light at night, from public outdoor illuminations, to domestic lighting and light-emitting screens.  Previous research in this area has found that inappropriate and disruptive light exposure at night or too little (day)light exposure during the day profoundly affects people’s circadian rhythms, health and wellbeing.

These affects, particularly in adults over 65 years of age, can increase the risk of developing diseases including cancer, neurodegeneration, and psychiatric disorders. Knowledge about the health effects and the subsequent development of guidelines for adequate urban lighting strategies have the potential to substantially counteract the inappropriate exposure to light.

The ENLIGHTENme team is made up of scientists from 22 organisations across 10 different countries and is funded through the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme (EUR 5 million over the next four years). They will collect and analyse existing data and good practices on urban lighting and will investigate the correlations between health, wellbeing, lighting and socio-economic factors.

Surrey will participate in three in-depth studies in selected districts of Bologna (Italy), Amsterdam (The Netherlands) and Tartu (Estonia). By establishing an “Urban Lighting Lab” in each target district of the three cities, scientists aim to involve the widest range of relevant stakeholders including citizens and city officials to engage and educate them in lighting and health issues, and involve them in co-designing and assessing lighting innovations.

Findings from the study will provide tools to support the decision-making process of planning of healthy urban lighting policies and help identify priorities in light interventions to avoid inequalities. Knowledge gained will also help compare the impacts of different lighting scenarios and to define criteria and technical requirements to be adopted to ensure the integration of health and wellbeing in urban lighting policy plans.

Professor Simona Tondelli, Professor at the Department of Architecture at the Alma Mater Studiorum – Università Di Bologna and coordinator of the ENLIGHTENme consortium, said: “ENLIGHTENme will not only improve the health of citizens in urban areas on an individual level, it will also provide the evidence needed for policy making on improved urban health on a political level. Equally important is also the reduction of health inequalities through the inclusion of citizens normally not involved in the drafting of urban lighting plans.”

Professor Debra Skene, Section Lead of Chronobiology at the University of Surrey, said: “At Surrey, we are delighted to be taking part in this innovative project. We already know the impact that light exposure can have on our circadian rhythms, health and wellbeing in controlled laboratory studies but the effect of artificial light in our natural environment (such as flood lights at sports pitches and lit advertising billboards) and in our homes is not known.”  

Dr Daan van der Veen, Senior Lecturer in Sleep and Chronobiology and part of the Surrey team, said: “Simultaneously monitoring activity and light exposure in older people in their natural environment in three different cities will provide unique data. What we learn from this exciting project will help inform planning legislation.”

 

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