Your Health: Where You Live Matters

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There has long been an acknowledged relationship between where you live, your health, and life expectancy. At its simplest, low income neighborhoods, disadvantaged neighborhoods lacking social and employment opportunities, or neighborhoods close to pollution sources are often associated with poorer health. For example, individuals living in poor neighborhoods are more likely to report poor health as compared to their peers living in wealthier neighborhoods. Living in poor neighborhoods is also associated with a greater risk of obesity, cancer, heart disease and other chronic conditions, and a shorter life expectancy.

In Hamilton, Ontario – my hometown – a long-running analysis involving the local newspaper (The Hamilton Spectator) and researchers at McMaster University have looked at the relationship between health and neighborhood in the city. Their use of Geographic Information Science (GIS) along with statistical analysis to look at variations in health across the city revealed some startling differences. For instance, the analysis uncovered a difference of 21 years in the average age of death across the city, with a significant portion of this difference explained by effects related to poverty. Other findings from the Code Red study included differences in the use of health services and cancer rates across the city, along with significant variations in the determinants of health, which include such things as living arrangements, marital status, education, employment, social networks, gender and culture.

New research that follows an individual (and their health) over time is enhancing our understanding of the relationship between health and where you live, revealing that poor health and poor self-perceived health in later life is related to living in low-income neighborhoods during young adulthood. Reflecting chronic exposure, long-term residency in disadvantaged neighborhoods may lead to “weathering” or the impact on health due to being exposed to risk factors that have a negative impact on health. For the old, therefore, neighborhood quality will have a greater impact, particularly for those individuals that ‘age in place’, reflecting their desire to grow old in their current house and neighborhood. I’ll explore aging in place in a future Blog.

The implications of this type of research – and the variations in health across space – are multiple. Even in a country with a free health care system such as Canada, the variations in health are significant across space, meaning that questions such as how and where services are located are important. Anti-poverty programs, social welfare programs, recreational opportunities, health education, and neighborhood programs can also play a significant role. But, citizens, neighborhoods, NGOs and all levels of government play a role in reducing and removing these differences.

Further Reading:

The link to Code Red can be found at: http://thespec-codered.com/

Population Reference Bureau. 2017. How Neighborhoods Affect the Health and Well-Being of Older Americans. Available at: http://www.prb.org/pdf17/TRA%2035.pdf

Map credit: Centre for Spatial Analysis, McMaster University.

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