Poor Neighborhoods More Likely to Lead to Poor Health

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An individual’s living environment may have a major impact on health-related issues such as obesity and diabetes, according to the results of a recent study.

The study, entitled “Neighborhoods, Obesity, and Diabetes – A Randomized Social Experiment” was published in the Oct. 19 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine and was based on research conducted over a period of 10 to 15 years.

“The opportunity to move from a neighborhood with a high level of poverty to one with a lower level of poverty was associated with modest but potentially important reductions in the prevalence of extreme obesity and diabetes,” researchers wrote.

The study separated volunteers comprised of female heads of households living in high-poverty urban areas into one of three groups: those receiving vouchers to move to a low-poverty area only; those receiving vouchers to move to another area of their choosing; and a control group who were not offered vouchers. A total of 4,498 families participated in the program, more than 90 percent of those being Black or Hispanic.

Researchers found that, compared with the control group, both of the other groups had a lower prevalence of obesity, as measured by body mass index and a lower prevalence of elevated blood glucose levels, one indicator of diabetes.

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While the findings drew a connection between environmental poverty and health, authors of the study said its limitations mean more work should be done before drawing hard conclusions. These limitations include a lack of medical information collected at the start of the study, and the self-selecting of the volunteers for the study, which may have skewed the sample away from being a true representation of the general population.

According to the Associated Press, researchers said the study was not designed to show what makes wealthier neighborhoods healthier, but that several theories may explain that tendency. Among them, they believe that healthy food is less available in lower-income areas; that fear of criminal activity causes residents in high-poverty areas to avoid outside exercise; and that less access to medical services and long-term stress from the environment can alter internal control of hormones related to weight.