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How neighborhood design can raise diabetes risk

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
How does your neighborhood stack up for helping thwart diabetes?

Living in neighborhoods that aren't walking friendly could contribute to type 2 diabetes risk, finds a new study from researchers at St. Michael's Hospital and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences.

Neighborhoods designed with fewer residents, poorly connected streets and lack of available retail stores within 10 minutes are contributors to diabetes risk.

According to the study finding, lower income immigrants in particular were found to be 50% more likely to develop diabetes, compared to people whose neighborhoods were conducive to walking and had more places to shop.

"Although diabetes can be prevented through physical activity, healthy eating and weight loss, we found the environment in which one lives is also an important indicator for determining risk," said Dr. Gillian Booth, an endocrinologist and researcher at St. Michael's in a press release.

Living in urban areas is has been associated with unhealthy behaviors, which are thought to be linked to lack of access to healthy foods. Additionally, several studies have found areas with fewer green spaces negatively impact the health of residents, as do neighborhoods full of fast food restaurants within walking distance.

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This study is the first to associate a specific disease risk in neighborhoods that aren’t walking friendly.

Researchers tracked residents age 30-64 without diabetes and followed them for 5 years to see if diabetes risk was linked to where they lived.

According to Booth, risk of diabetes was found in areas that were least walkable – primarily newly developed neighborhoods.

The study has implications for public health. Booth says the finding emphasizes that neighborhood design
has an influence on the health of urban residents. Access to healthy food choices, especially for low income segments of the population without transportation is essential.

The results are published in the journal Diabetes Care. People in walking friendly neighborhoods were half a likely to develop type 2 diabetes, compared to residents of areas with few retail stores and poorly connected streets.

Diabetes Care
"Unwalkable Neighborhoods, Poverty, and the Risk of Diabetes Among Recent Immigrants to Canada Compared With Long-Term Residents"
doi: 10.2337/dc12-0777
Gillian L. Booth, MD, et al
September 17, 2012

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