Medicine Today: Research compares community to obesity

In our busy lives, being physically active can be difficult.

 

Because exercise is linked to lower rates of diabetes, heart disease and stroke, the American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise at least five days a week.

Although a difficult goal for many, a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association might be able to help when buying a home or designing new subdivisions.

It suggests that the more walkable a neighborhood, the lower the rates of obesity and diabetes.

Dr. Maria Creatore, an epidemiologist at the Institute of Clinical Evaluative Sciences and St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, and colleagues analyzed data from 2001 to 2012 among adults ages 30-64 in about 9,000 neighborhoods in Ontario, Canada.

They studied the association of neighborhood walkability scores to annual rates of obesity and diabetes within the community.

Walkability scores were based on a validated index of population density, number of homes, ability to walk to local businesses and public areas, and how well streets were connected.

After adjusting to differences like age, gender, ethnicity, poverty level, and access to healthcare, they found that more walkable neighborhoods had lower rates of baseline obesity and these rates did not increase over time.

In contrast, less walkable neighborhoods had higher rates of obesity that increased during the 12-year period.

Compared to less-walkable areas, the rate of new diabetes cases in more-walkable neighborhoods was lower and decreased by about 10 percent over time.

Creatore’s study speaks to the importance of urban planning in public health.

It argues that neighborhoods that are more walkable have better health outcomes, which is important information for homeowners and policy makers.

However, the study also has several important limitations.

Although the authors controlled for many differences between neighborhoods, they were unable to control for all differences, like crime, occupation and natural beauty of the area, which could influence one’s desire and ability to walk.

Researchers only had access to health outcomes by neighborhood. Results might have differed if outcomes of individuals, rather than neighborhoods, were studied.

Even with these limitations, this study gives us an important conclusion – in our busy lives, living in a more walkable neighborhood may stack the odds in our favor.

 

ANANT MANDAWAT, A GRADUATE OF LAKESIDE HIGH SCHOOL AND YALE UNIVERSITY’S MEDICAL SCHOOL, IS A DOCTOR OF INTERNAL MEDICINE AT MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL.

 

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