Living in walkable neighborhoods helps lower risk of obesity and diabetes, study finds

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Consumers are more active when their local area offers access to outdoor activities

Recent studies have shown how consumers’ lifestyle habits, such as commuting or access to fast food, can impact their risk of obesity. Now, a new study conducted by The Endocrine Society explored how consumers’ neighborhoods may also affect their health. 

According to their findings, living in a more walkable neighborhood that offers easy access to parks or other outdoor activities may lower the chances of consumers struggling with obesity or diabetes. 

“The built environment can influence physical activity levels by promoting active forms of transportation, such as walking and cycling over passive ones, such as car use,” said researcher Dr. Gillian L. Booth. “Shifting the transportation choices of local residents may mean that more members of the population can participate in physical activity during their daily routine without structured exercise programs.” 

Staying active improves health outcomes

The researchers reviewed several studies that analyzed how consumers’ environments impacted their long-term health outcomes. They were most concerned with how the built environment -- which includes everything from restaurants and stores to roads, buildings, and walking paths -- influences consumers' health. 

Their findings suggested that living in walkable neighborhoods was associated with more physical activity and better health outcomes. 

One Canada-based study of more than 1.5 million people showed that the risk of developing diabetes was 30% to 50% higher for consumers living in less walkable neighborhoods. Another study involving over 1.1 million people found that the risk of pre-diabetes among healthy residents was 20% higher in areas that were less conducive to walking. 

The researchers learned that there were similar outcomes for obesity. One of the studies revealed that the prevalence of obesity was 43% among consumers in easily walkable neighborhoods, whereas that figure was 53% for those who struggled to find walking paths in their areas. 

The researchers' work also showed that moving from a less walkable neighborhood to a more walkable neighborhood had positive effects on consumers’ blood pressure levels. This is important because it shows that health risks aren’t fixed and can be changed with lifestyle interventions. 

More options lead to better health

Moving forward, the researchers hope plans for infrastructure across the country take these findings into consideration. Having options for consumers to stay active can have significant benefits on health and wellness. 

“We need policies that promote healthier eating habits and opportunities to engage in active forms of transportation,” Dr. Booth said. 

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