"Walkable" Communities Lower Risk of Obesity, Diabetes

First Posted: Jun 17, 2014 03:57 PM EDT

Staying physically fit is an important part of our everyday health. Yet a recent study examines the impact of regular physical fitness on diabetic Americans. More specifically, researchers at St. Michael's Hospital and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) in Toronto looked at how living in healthier communities positively impacted those who were obese, overweight or dealing with the symptoms of the health issue. 

For the study, researchers compared adults living in the most and least "walkable" metropolitan areas in southern Ontario. They found a lower risk of developing diabetes over a 10-year period for those who lived in neighborhoods with more interconnectivity among local streets and more local stores.

"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, in a news release. "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, researchers categorized neighborhoods in southern Ontario based on their different levels of "walkability." For example, a neighborhood with many stores and services accessible via walking would be considered more "walkable" than one in which residents would have to drive to stores.

For the first part of the study, researchers examined the health of residents from different areas over a span of 10 years. They found that those who lived in "walkable" neighborhoods had a 13 percent lower risk, on average, of getting type 2 diabetes.

The second study compared overall rates of people who were overweight, obese or diabetic and living in the area. Researchers found that "walkable" neighborhoods tended to have fewer obese or overweight residents. There was also a decreased risk of diabetic issues in these communities. However, researchers said that the benefits of living in a "walkable" neighborhood did not apply to seniors 65 and up.

"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, via the news release. 

More information regarding the findings were presented at the American Diabetes Association's 74th Scientific Sessions.

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