Arts & Health evidence

28 February 2018

Ahead of the deadline for the consultation on the Mental Health Green paper on Friday 2 March, we wanted to share some of the evidence on the impact of arts on good health.

The consultation closes at noon on 2 March 2018. Have your say here: You can also read our briefing on the Green paper.

Poor childhood wellbeing

Young people are twice as likely to report feeling depressed or anxious now as in the 1980s (Nuffield Foundation, 2012). In the UK one in ten secondary age children have a diagnosable mental health problem; an average of three children in every classroom (Young Minds, 2016).

The UK’s children are particularly hard-hit compared to their international peers: the UK ranks 14th out of 15 countries for wellbeing in the Children’s Worlds study (Rees & Main, 2015). Aside from the personal cost of poor mental health, mental illness during childhood and adolescence results in UK costs of £11,030 to £59,130 annually per child.

Poor physical health, particularly for children from more deprived backgrounds, is also a cause for concern. Over one in five children in the first year of primary school are overweight or obese, with minimal improvement in these figures over the past decade.

In 2015/2016, 40% of children in England’s most deprived areas were overweight or obese compared to 27% in the most affluent areas (Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health, 2017).

Impact of the arts

There is growing evidence of the impact of the arts in improving mental and physical health. Study after study has found that subjective wellbeing is improved by taking part in arts activities.

Italian data shows that cultural access is the second most important determinant of wellbeing above factors such as occupation, age, income and education (Grossi, et al. 2010 & 2012). Nordic data found that people who visited cinema, art exhibitions, museums or concerts, compared with those who rarely visited, had a lower mortality risk (Konlaan, et al. 2000).

Research by the Scottish Government has shown that those who participated in a creative or cultural activity were 38% more likely to report good health compared to those who did not. For participants in dance, the figure reporting good health leapt to 62% (Leadbetter & O’Connor, 2013).

Arts Council England cites similar data with even higher recorded benefits: people who had attended a cultural place or event in the previous 12 months were almost 60% more likely to report good health compared to those who had not (Mowlah, et al. 2014).

What works

Dance can be shown to improve the physical health and self-esteem of participants, in particular for girls who are not engaging in other physical activity (Connolly, et al. 2011).

Theatre, drama and group music making improve young people’s social skills and emotional wellbeing (Schellenberg, et al. 2015 & Hughes & Wilson, 2004).

Participating in arts lowers cortisol levels in blood stream (lowers stress) (Kreutz, et al. 2004). Learning to play an instrument has been shown to help children better cope with stress (Roden, et al, 2016), with Hallam noting in the Power of Music (2015) ‘Music has a particular role in the reduction of stress and anxiety’.

The act of making art (visual or performance) develops young people’s sense of identity and self-efficacy and increases children and young people’s resiliencea key component of good mental health (Catterall & Peppler, 2007, Merrell & Tymms, 2002, Schellenberg, et al. 2015).

‘Creative activity has been observed to stimulate an understanding of the process of making, giving rise to a greater sense of responsibility and self-reflection, increased confidence and self-esteem and better mental health.’

Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing, report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing, 2017 p92


Further evidence

Good sources of further evidence of the impact of engaging in the arts on health include:



Catterall, James S. and Peppler, Kylie A. (2007) ‘Learning in the visual arts and the worldviews of young children’ Cambridge Journal of Education, 37(4)

Connolly, M.K., Quinn, E. and Redding, E. (2011) ‘Dance 4 your life: exploring the health and well-being implications of
a contemporary dance intervention for female adolescents’ Research in Dance Education, 12(1), pp.53–66

Fleming, Mike, Merrell, Christine and Tymms, Peter (2004) ‘The impact of drama on pupils’ language, mathematics, and attitude in two primary schools, Research in Drama Education’ The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, 9(2) pp.177–197

Griffiths, Viv, Blishen, Susan and Vincent, John (2007) Right to Read 2001 – 2005: summary of the current outcomes. London: Paul Hamlyn Foundation

Grossi, E. et al. (2010) ‘The impact of culture on the individual subjective well-being of the Italian population: an exploratory study’ Applied Research in Quality of Life. 6(4) pp.387–410

Grossi, E., et al. (2012) "The Interaction Between Culture, Health and Psychological Well-Being: Data Mining from the Italian Culture and Well-Being Project." Journal of Happiness Studies 13: 129-148.

Hallam, S. (2015) The Power of Music. London: Music Education Council: pp99

Jenny Hughes and Karen Wilson. (2004) “Playing a part: the impact of youth theatre on young people's personal and social development.” Research In Drama Education: The Journal Of Applied Theatre And Performance Vol. 9 (1)

Konlaan, B. et al. (2000) “Visiting the cinema, concerts, museums or art exhibitions as determinant of survival: a Swedish fourteen-year cohort follow-up” Scandinavian Journal of Public Health 28 pp.174–178 

Kreutz, G., Bongard, S, Rohrmann, S., Grebe, D., Bastian, H.G. & Hodapp, V. (2004) Effects of choir singing or listening on secretory immunoglobulin A, cortisol and emotional state, Journal of Behavioural Medicine, 27(6), 623-635.

Leadbetter, C. and O’Connor, N. (2013) Healthy Attendance? The Impact of Cultural Engagement and Sports Participation on Health and Satisfaction with Life in Scotland. Scottish Government Social Research.

Merrell, C., Tymms, P. (2002) National Theatre Transformation project: final evaluation report. Durham: University of Durham.

Mowlah, Andrew, Vivien Niblett, Jonathon Blackburn and Marie Harris (2014) The Value of Arts and Culture to People and Society. London: Arts Council England.

Nuffield Foundation (2012) Social trends and mental health: introducing the main findings. London: Nuffield Foundation.

Rees, G. & Main, G. (eds) (2015) Children’s views on their lives and well-being in 15 countries: An initial report on the Children’s Worlds survey, 2013-14. York, UK: Children’s Worlds Project (ISCWeB).

Roden, I., et al. (2016) “Effects of music and natural science training on aggressive behavior.” Learning and Instruction, 45, 85-92

Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (2017) State of Child Health Report 2017 Accessed May 21 2017

Schellenberg EG, Corrigall KA, Dys SP, Malti T. (2015) ‘Group Music Training and Children's Prosocial Skills.’ PLOS ONE 10(10): e0141449. Accessed 5 May 2017

Schellenberg, E. G. (2004) ‘Music lessons enhance IQ’ Psychological Science, 15(8) pp.511–514

Young Minds (2016) Mental Health Statistics. Accessed September 21, 2016.

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