Professor Studies Impact of Green Space on Health
Marcia Pescador Jimenez, a new assistant professor of epidemiology, studies how green space can affect cardiovascular health, Alzheimer’s disease, and racial health disparities across the lifecourse.
Marcia Pescador Jimenez has lived in several places around the world that have opened her eyes to how the environment in which we live affects our health.
Growing up in Mexico City, Pescador Jimenez says she lived among crowded streets and heavy air pollution. From there, she moved to Belgium, where people would bike nearly everywhere and the air felt crisp and clean.
“I have really been a witness to how the places I have lived have affected my wellbeing, and these experiences have inspired me to do the work that I am doing today,” she says.
Currently a research fellow at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Pescador Jimenez will officially join School of Public Health faculty on September 1 as an assistant professor of epidemiology and continue her work researching the influence of urban environmental factors, specifically access to green space, on cardiovascular health, Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia, and racial health disparities across the lifecourse.
Pescador Jimenez says that green space—an open area of grass or trees used for recreational purposes in an urban environment—is beneficial to our health in many ways. “Accessing these spaces can lower our stress levels and overall exposure to noise and air pollution, as well as increase our opportunities for physical activity and social connection,” she says.
Because green space is fairly ubiquitous, Pescador Jimenez says it is easily modifiable and is a place for straightforward health interventions to happen. “If we can show that green spaces are associated with significant health benefits,” she says, “we can inform policymakers and urban planners about how they can create healthier cities for the population.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Pescador Jimenez says she had to find a balance between her work and personal life as a mother of two young children. And like so many other working parents at this time, the stress of this began to build up and negatively impact her mental and physical health.
“When I would finally step away from my desk to go for a walk outside, I could almost immediately feel my stress levels decrease when I saw the trees around me,” she says. “It really made me believe more in the value of my work and its impact on health because I was experiencing some of those benefits in real time.”
Having worked with people from various fields, including geographers, computational engineers, and environmental epidemiologists, Pescador Jimenez says that one of the things she enjoys most about her work is the interdisciplinary nature of it. “I never thought I would get to work with and learn from people in such diverse fields, but it’s exciting,” she says. “This work really touches on a little bit of everything.”
A self-identified “forever student,” Pescador Jimenez also says that having the opportunity to learn and grow in her field, as well as teach students, has been a fulfilling part of her career so far. “I am still learning a lot,” she says, “but sharing my story and the knowledge that I do have with others and seeing them get excited about this work is a really wonderful experience.”
While searching for jobs, Pescador Jimenez says that the breadth and quality of research coming out of SPH initially attracted her to the school, but the welcoming community of faculty and staff sealed the deal for her.
“SPH is a really wonderful and encouraging place to be, and everyone is doing such great and important work,” she says. “I can’t believe I get to call some of my heroes in academia colleagues now, and I am really excited to be here.”