Where you put down roots can impact your long term health, according to a new study in the January 2011 issue of American Journal of Public Health. It’s one of a growing number of studies documenting the connection between neighborhood characteristics and chronic health conditions, and it could eventually change the way society looks at preventing chronic diseases.
Vicki Freedman, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research and colleagues at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey are the first to show that living in highly segregated neighborhoods--regardless of race--with high crime rates is linked with an increased risk of developing cancers of all kinds.
According to the authors, the study’s findings point to potentially new pathways through which the neighborhood environment may influence the development of chronic disease.
This new approach differs from previous research on cancer and the environment which emphasized lifestyle factors, such as tobacco use, diet and exercise and exposure to cancer-causing agents, rather than the social and economic aspects of the physical environment.
In the study, researchers based their analysis partly on data from the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research (ISR) Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative, longitudinal survey of more than 200,000 Americans age 50 and older, funded by the National Institute on Aging. Then the researchers analyzed detailed measures of self-reported individual health histories, matched with social, economic and physical conditions of the neighborhoods in which the individuals lived.
The study found that living in highly segregated neighborhoods with high crime rates produced a 31 percent higher probability of developing cancer for older men and 25 percent increase risk for older women. The study also found older women living in these neighborhoods have a 20 percent higher risk of developing a range of heart problems. There was no impact on older men.