Living in a neighborhood that supports a healthy lifestyle can make a measurable difference in preventing obesity, according to a recent study in the journal Obesity. We all know our environments have a profound impact on us. Relatives, friends and neighbors who stay and look fit help encourage us to do so as well, this might be why Colorado has one of the lowest rates of obesity! An outdoor lifestyle can make a huge impact!
Healthy Neighborhoods Could Prevent Obesity
The five-year study found that significantly fewer people became obese when living in neighborhoods with healthier food environments, compared to those who had fewer healthy food options within a mile of their homes.
Previous cross-sectional “snapshot” studies have shown that healthier, less-obese people are more likely to live in neighborhoods with supermarkets and access to fresh food, and to some extent in neighborhoods that are walkable. Some people term urban areas concentrated with fast food as “food deserts”.
Dr. Auchincloss and her co-authors consider their new study’s results more robust than much of the other work to date on neighborhood risk factors and obesity. They selected participants not obese and baseline and tracked who became obese during a five-year follow-up period and they accounted for person-level factors that could influence both health status and neighborhood choice. The researchers analyzed health data from 4,008 adults from six cities across the United States, followed over a period of five years as part of a larger Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (a disease of clogging of the arteries). The study participants completed surveys about qualities of the area surrounding their homes: To what extent are healthy foods available nearby? And how walkable do they perceive the neighborhood to be?
A healthy food environment was associated with lower obesity – even after accounting for factors such as age, sex, income and wealth, education, ethnicity, smoking, diet, physical activity, as well as walkability of the neighborhood. Auchincloss and her co-authors suggested that altering residential environments so that healthy lifestyles are easy to maintain, may be a pre-condition for promoting healthy behavior – but that these changes should work in combination with other strategies for improving health. “Programs including farmer’s markets and subsidies for fresh food vendors to locate in disadvantaged areas, are the types of adaptations cities and towns can make to create healthier communities – without putting the burden on individuals to have to move to a new neighborhood in order to adopt a healthier lifestyle,” Auchincloss said.
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