Suburban living may increase risk of obesity and diabetes, study shows

Shereen Dindar
Contributing Writer
Shine On
(Thinkstock)

New research shows that the type of neighbourhood you live in may impact your chance of becoming obese or developing diabetes.

Canadian researchers from St. Michael's Hospital analyzed the walkability and density of Toronto neighbourhoods and compared that data against rates of obesity and diabetes.

They found that people who live in sparsely populated neighbourhoods that aren't conducive to walking, such as the suburbs, have a 33 per cent greater risk of developing diabetes or becoming obese.

Conversely, densely populated neighbourhoods with more walkable destinations, such as downtown, have lower rates of obesity and diabetes.

"Although diabetes can be prevented through physical activity, healthy eating and weight loss, we determined the environment in which one lives is also an important indicator of one's risk," says co-author and endocrinologist Dr. Gillian Booth.

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The study, published in the journal PLOS One, shows that people who live in more walkable and densely populated neighbourhoods are twice as likely to walk, bicycle or take public transit.

Individuals who live in more spacious areas that are far from destinations such as grocery stores, restaurants and shops are also significantly more likely to drive or own a vehicle.

"The neighbourhoods that are the most walkable tend to be in the older areas of the city. They tend to be in areas that were built up largely prior to World War Two,” Dr. Booth explains to the Toronto Star.

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Outer Etobicoke and Scarborough were determined to be among the least-walkable neighbourhoods in Toronto. Those areas that extend as far west as Roncesvalles, as east as The Beach, and as north as Yonge-Eglinton were found to be the most-walkable.

In some ways the findings of this study are reassuring considering the ongoing global population boom, which is forcing much of world to live in crowded spaces.

However, the authors are careful to note that population density is not the sole determinant of obesity and diabetes. Actual health risks vary by neighbourhood and are also affected by income level and ethnicity.