Thursday, October 22, 2009

Neighborhoods and Wellness

Okay. This appears to be a no brainer but you can never be too sure, I guess. I read an article about a study that was begun in the year 2000 and finished by around 2007. I did not go to the study itself where I imagine some of my questions might be answered.

The study was of diabetes incidence in persons based on their access to walkable communities and fresh foods. It was recently published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The news article from Reuters tells us that people who live in health promoting neighborhoods have more than a third less chance of getting diabetes than those who do not. They defined these neighborhoods as better if they have access to fruits and vegetables, good transportation, parks and sidewalks.

That stopped me right there. I wondered if they did some type of prospective study over many years or if they did an experiment and randomly placed people in a “good” versus “bad” environment. (They did neither)

I don’t doubt that the finding is true, sort of. If you live in an area where healthy (fresh) food is available and opportunity for physical activity exists, you MAY eat better and exercise, thus reducing your chance of getting diabetes. But there is more to it than just having it there. People have to believe that eating well and exercising will benefit THEM and that they have the ability to eat well and exercise. It isn’t as simple as the article makes it sound.

But the beef I have with the researchers is more important. The article tells me that the scientists received baseline info from the subjects, including anthropometric data (weight, BP, blood sugar, etc) and their current intake of fruits and veggies and their exercise levels. The study lasted five years and the persons were questioned three additional times. At they end they compared disease outcomes with the data they collected.

My issue is that the three TEST neighborhoods (20 minutes from the person’s home) were different of course, but they should not have been apples to oranges different. The areas were Baltimore MD, the Bronx NY and Forsyth County, NC. So they compared a city, a borough and a county. Weird.

Upshot. Yes neighborhoods matter and access to healthy foods and safe physical activity could reduce the number of obese and diabetic persons in said community.

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