New Data to Link Walkability and Diabetes
October 11, 2012 Leave a comment
These days, most designers, planners, doctors, and public health advocates promote walkable neighborhoods as places which support people to live healthy lifestyles. However, science has been slower to link this belief to hard data from the field. A new study out of Toronto published by the journal Diabetes Care adds compelling evidence that there is a definite connection between the walkability of neighborhoods and healthy residents.
Researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences spent five years collecting and examining data from more than 1 million residents of Toronto. In early 2005, the team took the majority of Toronto residents aged 30-64 and singled out the number of these residents who did not have diabetes in early 2005. Five years later, almost 60,000 individuals of this population had developed diabetes, and the researchers were able to determine that the walkability of the communities in which they lived was closely linked to that outcome. The result was noted to be particularly strong for immigrants to Toronto, many of whom are prone to diabetes and poverty and live in neighborhoods with poor walkability. Regardless of neighborhood income, new immigrants in less walkable neighborhoods were startlingly found to be more than 50% more likely to develop diabetes than a long-term resident living in one of the most walkable areas.
The design, plan, and structure of our neighborhoods and cities is increasingly shown to shape the health of our population, and the rise in diabetes seems to be closely linked to shifts in urbanization. Unfortunately, it is neighborhoods with large blocks, sprawling development, and separated land uses which are the ones often developed throughout the world today. Often, it is not the long-term residents who suffer the consequences but recent immigrants to a community. Perhaps the doctors, activists, planners, and public health researchers are on to something and it would be beneficial in the long term for cities to develop in a dense, mixed-use fashion.