SAN FRANCISCO — People who live in neighborhoods where walking is convenient reported lower rates of diabetes, obesity and overweight, according to study data presented at the American Diabetes Association’s 74th Scientific Sessions.
Those who relied on a car to navigate their neighborhood were more likely to report type 2 diabetes and a high BMI, the presenter said.
Gillian Booth, MD, endocrinologist and research scientist in the Institute of Clinical Evaluative Sciences at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto, presented data from two studies in a press conference and two oral sessions at the meeting.
“High neighborhood walkability appears to be protective for the development of diabetes in young and middle-aged urban populations,” Booth said during a presentation.
She went further in a press briefing, saying, “It has become clear that how we build our cities matters in terms of our overall health.”
Booth and research colleagues conducted one study in Ontario neighborhoods to detect 10-year development of diabetes in walkable neighborhoods vs. car-dependent neighborhoods.
A walkable neighborhood was defined as a residential area with less sprawl, more interconnectivity among streets and more local businesses within walking distance. Notably, the researchers isolated for baseline health to rule out the possibility that healthier people might choose to live in more walkable neighborhoods.
“Self-selection, in itself, could account for some of these findings,” Booth said during her presentation. “Those who prefer to live in one neighborhood may differ systematically from those who choose other neighborhoods.”
The second study took a broader view of disease rates in walkable neighborhoods, looking at 15 municipalities in Canada that together represent approximately one-fifth of the country’s population.
Using anonymous health data from provincial databases, the researchers identified residents in the highest and lowest walkability quintiles — approximately 1 million in all — excluding those with previously diagnosed diabetes.
At the end of the 10-year study period, results showed the most walkable neighborhoods in Ontario had the lowest incidence of diabetes, obesity and overweight.
Walkable neighborhoods reported a 7% decrease in diabetes rate, while less walkable neighborhoods saw a 6% increase. Similarly, the incidence of obesity and overweight were more severe in less walkable neighborhoods, with a 13% increase in less walkable areas compared with a 9% decrease over the 10-year period.
Additionally, data showed that people who live in walkable areas are three times more likely to walk or bicycle and half as likely to use a car.
“This suggests that changes in zoning, urban planning and design that promote walking and other forms of active transportation may help to curb the ongoing rise in obesity and diabetes,” Booth said. “Further research is needed to understand the full impact such interventions will have.” — by Reagan Copeland with additional reporting by Allegra Tiver
For more information:
Creatore MI, GL Booth et al. Abstract 76-OR. Presented at: American Diabetes Association’s 74th Scientific Sessions; June 13-17, 2014; San Francisco.
Booth GL. Abstract 383-OR. Presented at: American Diabetes Association’s 74th Scientific Sessions; June 13-17, 2014; San Francisco.