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“Walkable” Communities Help Reduce Risks of Obesity, Diabetes

Update Date: Jun 17, 2014 01:39 PM EDT

Where people live can greatly influence their overall health due to several factors ranging from access to medical care to ease of exercising. In two new studies, researchers compared the health benefits of living in neighborhoods that promote walking to neighborhoods that were more auto-dependent. The teams found that people from "walkable" communities have lower risks of becoming overweight, obese or diabetic.

"How we build our cities matters in terms of our overall health," said lead researcher Gillian Booth, MD, Endocrinologist and Research Scientist at St. Michael's Hospital and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) in Toronto. "This is one piece of a puzzle that we can potentially do something about. As a society, we have engineered physical activity out of our lives. Every opportunity to walk, to get outside, to go to the corner store or walk our children to school can have a big impact on our risk for diabetes and becoming overweight."

In both studies, Canadian researchers categorized neighborhoods in southern Ontario based on their levels of "walkability." For example, a neighborhood that has more stores and services accessible via walking would be considered a "walkable" community. On the other hand, a community that required people to drive to stores would be considered less "walkable,"

In the first study, the researchers examined the health of the residents from these different areas over a time span of 10 years. They found that people who lived in "walkable" neighborhoods had a 13 percent lower risk, on average, of getting type 2 diabetes. In the second study, the researchers compared the overall rates of people who were overweight, obese or diabetic living in these areas. They found that "walkable" neighborhoods tended to have fewer cases of overweight, obese and diabetic residents. The researchers noted that the benefits of living in a "walkable" neighborhood did not apply to seniors aged 65 and older.

"Your environment can influence your decisions about physical activity. When you live in a neighborhood designed to encourage people to be more active, you are in fact more likely to be more active," Marisa Creatore, Epidemiologist with the Centre for Research on Inner City Health at St. Michael's Hospital, Toronto, added.

The studies were presented at the American Diabetes Association's 74th Scientific Sessions.

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