Where you live could be as bad for your health as how you live, according to a new study.
Researchers in London have found that high levels of neighborhood problems, such as noise, unsafe areas, smells, fumes and litter contribute, along with lifestyle choices, to levels of daily stress that can have health consequences.
"High levels of neighborhood problems were associated with poorer self-rated health, psychological distress and reduced ability to carry out activities of daily living," said lead author Andrew Steptoe, D.Phil., D.Sc., of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London.
Steptoe says chronic stressors in urban neighborhoods have important health effects because they are largely uncontrollable, occur throughout the life course and are transferred across generations for those who live in poorer communities.
"However, we found no association between neighborhood problems and smoking, diet, alcohol consumption or physical activity," suggesting neighborhood problems are important independent contributors to chronic stress and increased health risk, rather than simply driving these individuals to drinking and smoking more.
The study appears in the August issue of Annals of Behavioral Medicine.
Steptoe and his colleagues gathered information through questionnaires completed by 419 residents of 18 higher socioeconomic status urban London-area neighborhoods, and 235 residents of 19 lower socioeconomic status neighborhoods.
Participants were asked to identify their neighborhood problems from a list of 10 items, including litter, smells and fumes, pedestrian safety after dark, problems with dogs, noise, traffic and road safety, vandalism, lack of shopping, lack of entertainment and frequent disturbances by neighbors or youngsters.
Other questions assessed overall health and behaviors including diet, smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity and psychological distress.
Residents also indicated whether they owned a car or home, lived in a crowded home and experienced financial strains.
Not surprisingly, say the researchers, the neighborhood problem scores were greater in respondents from poorer rather than wealthier neighborhoods.
Wealthier neighborhoods were also rated as having more social capital, or shared values, with higher levels of trust and support.
The researchers said the study was limited by a low response rate, reliance on self-reported health data and did not take into account other factors that may affect health such as adequate health facilities, public transportation, parks, parking spaces or policing.
"These preliminary results suggests high levels of neighborhood problems constitute sources of chronic stress that may increase risk of poor health in lower social status communities," said Steptoe.
by Virginia Foran