January 16, 2014
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Walkable urban neighborhood living may decrease risk for diabetes, obesity

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Living in densely populated areas with a high level of walkable destinations correlated with lower rates of diabetes and obesity, according to recent study data in PLOS One.

“Although diabetes can be prevented through physical activity, healthy eating and weight loss, we determined the environment in which one lives is also an important indicator of one’s risk,” said Gillian Booth, MD, of the Centre for Research on Inner City Health at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

Booth and colleagues used a walkability index and compared that with the Transportation Tomorrow Survey, Canadian Community Health Survey and the Ontario Diabetes Database to create a four-level variable representing high and low value combinations of walkability, density and destinations as compared with rates of diabetes and obesity.

This combined predictive model of residential density and walkable destinations had “additional explanatory power,” according to the researchers, and showed that those living in areas not conducive to walking have a 33% higher risk of developing diabetes or being obese.

As compared with those in the most walkable areas, those living in areas with the lowest measured walkability owned nearly twice as many vehicles (ratio=1.8; 95% CI,1.25-2.34); were nearly twice as likely to travel by automobile (ratio=1.75; 95% CI, 1.2-2.3); were nearly half as likely to use public transportation (ratio=0.58; 95% CI, 0.3-0.87); and about one-third as likely to walk or bicycle (ratio=0.32; 95% CI, 0-0.71), according to the study findings.

In addition, those living in the areas with the lowest measured walkability had a 49.7% rate of overweight or obesity, whereas those in the most walkable areas had a rate of 41.3%, researchers wrote.

“We focused on density and destinations because they’re potentially modifiable,” Richard H. Glazier, MD, research director in the department of family and community medicine at St. Michael's Hospital, said in the press release. “Policymakers, planners and public health officials can use either of these measures to inform urban design and improve community health.”

Disclosure: Booth received a New Investigator Award funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Ontario Women’s Health Council.