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How Neighborhood May Affect Diabetes

Research Shows Access is Associated With Lower Rates

Almost 28 million Americans have type 2 diabetes. Research from Northwestern Medicine suggests that access to certain neighborhood resources can lower a person’s chance of developing this preventable chronic condition.

Regular exercise and a healthy diet are two of the most effective ways to prevent diabetes. So, scientists including Mercedes Carnethon, PhD, an associate professor of Epidemiology in the Department of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern Medicine explored data that rated neighborhoods for having healthy foods and safe spaces for physical activity. They discovered that people living in neighborhoods rated highly for these features were less likely to develop diabetes over time.

However, the scientists also discovered that practical access may matter more than proximity. While self-reported access to these resources revealed a connection with lower rates of diabetes, there was no association between diabetes and the number of stores or spaces.

The scientists believe that other unmeasured factors influence accessibility, such as cost. Healthy food stores may be in the neighborhood, but the higher price can prohibit people from following their physicians’ recommendations to eat healthy.

“For example, a woman may live with her family less than one mile from a store with a broad selection of fruits and vegetables, but if she can’t afford to buy the items in that store, it’s not a healthy food option for her,” said Carnethon.

Carnethon plans to expand this research to investigate the relationship between practical access to health foods and risk for kidney and heart disease. She hopes that this research can be used to support policies and influence strategies to make healthy resources truly accessible in communities with a high burden of preventable chronic diseases, including diabetes.