NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Researchers found that people
who lived in neighborhoods with more opportunities for
exercise, less crime, better grocery stores and a closer sense
of community had a lower risk having high blood pressure --
independent of factors such as income and education level.
The findings, published in the journal Epidemiology,
suggest that building better neighborhoods might also improve
residents' cardiovascular health.
Walkable streets, recreational areas and better access to
healthy foods may make it easier for people to exercise and
maintain a healthy diet, explained Dr. Ana V. Diez Roux, a
professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School
of Public Health in Ann Arbor and a co-researcher on the study.
Stress may also play a role, she told Reuters Health. That
is, living conditions that make it hard to people to relax and
recover from life's daily stresses might contribute to blood
The researchers based their findings on 2,612 adults ages
45 to 85 who took part in a larger study of cardiovascular
health. All lived either in New York City, Baltimore or Forsyth
County in North Carolina.
The study participants were surveyed about the conditions
in the mile surrounding their home -- including whether they
felt safe, whether nearby markets had a good selection of
fruits and vegetables, and whether it was easy to walk in the
neighborhood. They were also asked about the neighborhood's
"social cohesion" -- including whether their neighbors were
generally friendly and willing to help each other out.
Overall, Diez Roux and her colleagues found that people who
lived in the most walkable neighborhoods were about one quarter
less likely to have high blood pressure than those in the least
The researchers found similar differences when they looked
at neighborhood safety, availability of healthy foods and
social cohesion. The links did diminish, however, when the
investigators factored in study participants' race and
Still, Diez Roux said, the findings suggest that
neighborhood characteristics play some role in the risk of high
This means that policies that improve communities -- from
crime reduction, to more parks, to better food choices -- might
also help improve people's health, she noted.
"Access to health care and health education are important,"
Diez Roux said, "but so are policies that create environments
conducive to making healthy choices and reducing stress."
SOURCE: Epidemiology, July 2008.