September 4, 2009 / 5:32 PM / 9 years ago

Ethnically dense neighborhood good for health

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Living in a neighborhood with a lot of people of similar ethnic background may have some health benefit, hints a new study from the United Kingdom.

In the study, fewer activity-limiting long-term illnesses were reported by people who lived in neighborhoods they felt were more than half made up of people with whom they shared a common ethnicity.

This effect was seen among white (primarily of British and Irish ancestry), Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and African race and ethnic groups, despite the tendency of ethnic minorities to “live in deprived neighborhoods,” Dr. Mai Stafford, from University College London, told Reuters Health in an email correspondence.

Stafford’s team measured actual ethnic density of various neighborhoods and asked residents for their views on the ethnic makeup of their own neighborhood.

The study included 8,850 whites, 1,299 Indians, 678 Pakistanis, 233 Bangladeshis, 690 Africans, and 820 of Caribbean ethnicity.

The investigators found general agreement between actual and perceived ethnic density, except that whites tended to underestimate the proportion of whites in their neighborhoods.

By contrast, “ethnic minority participants tended to overestimate the proportion of people from the same ethnic background as themselves in the local area,” Stafford said.

A health benefit of living in neighborhood with people of the same ethnic background was evident for all ethnic groups - except those of Caribbean ethnicity.

For unexplained reasons that need further study, those of Caribbean ethnicity reported fewer long-term illnesses associated with actual, rather than perceived, ethnic density.

In earlier research, Stafford and colleagues reported ethnic minorities living in areas with greater proportions of “co-ethnics” experience less racial discrimination and associated stress, which may partially explain the current findings.

They call for continued investigations to further explain and clarify the impact neighborhood ethnic density has on overall health.

SOURCE: American Journal of Epidemiology, August 15, 2009

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