Study: Living in poor neighborhood can hurt health

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From 1994 to 1998, nearly 1,800 of them were offered vouchers to subsidize private housing, but the vouchers were only good in higher-income neighborhoods where fewer than 10 percent of the people were considered poor. They were required to live there at least a year.

The rest of the women were divided into two groups. One group got vouchers they could use in any neighborhood. The other women did not receive vouchers, with the expectation that they would stay put.

Ten years later, women in the study were weighed and gave a blood sample to check for diabetes.

The women who moved to richer areas had the lowest rates of extreme obesity and diabetes. The difference suggests that moving to a better neighborhood could help at least 1 in 25 women. Or, in other terms, a person’s risk of diabetes or extreme obesity dropped by about 20 percent by moving to a higher-income neighborhood.

(However, even the women who moved were not exactly models of health. About 14 percent of them were extremely obese, which is twice the national average for women.)

The study has some notable flaws.

Because it did not start out looking at health, the women’s medical condition and weight were not checked at the outset. The researchers believe the women in the different groups were about the same, because they matched up on more than 50 other indicators, such as age, race, employment and education. But that is an assumption.

Also, only about half the women offered a chance to move to a more prosperous zip code did so. And many who did move left after a year.

What’s more, the study was not designed to answer what it is about more affluent neighborhoods that would cause someone to be healthier. But the authors listed four theories:

_ The availability of healthier food is worse in lower-income neighborhoods.

_ Opportunities for physical exercise are scarcer, and fear of crime can make people afraid to jog or play in parks.

_ There may be fewer doctors’ offices and other medical services.

_ The long-term stress of living in such an environment may alter the hormones that control weight.

Some of those theories were supported by some women who live in the kind of situation targeted in the study.

Vickie Webb lived in the projects in Durham, N.C., for several years before a housing agency helped relocate her and her husband to a better neighborhood.

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