Lower violent crime rates lead to fewer heart disease deaths, study suggests

Photo (c) Massimiliano Clari EyeEm - Getty Images

Communities with the biggest reductions in crime had better health outcomes

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine explored the link between crime rates and heart disease. According to their findings, decreased violent crime rates also led to decreased heart disease-related deaths. 

“It’s important to acknowledge the impact of the built environment on health,” said researcher Dr. Lauren Eberly. “Exposure to violent crime appears to be an important social determinant of cardiovascular health within the broader context of the ways in which structural racism harms health.” 

How crime affects heart disease

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from the Illinois Department of Public Health Division of Vital Records from 2000 through 2014. The team looked at rates of violent crime across Chicago’s nearly 80 different community areas and compared that information with rates of heart disease-related deaths. 

Ultimately, the researchers identified a connection between rates of violent crime and heart disease-related deaths. One area across the city experienced a nearly 60% drop in violent crime over the course of the study, which was then linked with a 15% lower risk of cardiovascular mortality. Similarly, a decrease in violent crime that was as low as 10% was linked with an 11% lower risk of heart disease mortality. 

“Because community areas that experienced the smallest decline in crime also experienced the smallest improvements in cardiovascular mortality, pre-existing disparities in mortality between neighborhoods in the city are likely to worsen over time, especially with the recent rise in crime rates in the United States,” said Eberly. “While these results represent one large, urban U.S. city that could potentially not be generalizable to other cities, we suspect that these results are likely reflective of many other large urban cities across the country.” 

The team plans to work more in this area to better understand how race and violent crime affect consumers' health. 

“It is possible that different types of crime rates in a neighborhood may have different relationships with community health, which needs to be investigated further,” said researcher Dr. Sameed Khatana. “Even if violent crime rates in a neighborhood are a marker of cardiovascular health, rather than the specific cause of cardiovascular events, the rise in any type of violent crime is concerning as it may identify neighborhoods where residents are especially vulnerable to worsening cardiovascular health in years to come.” 

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