RH News : Living in Communities Peopled by Others Like You Can Be Good for Your Health

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October 21, 2012

Living in Communities Peopled by Others Like You Can Be Good for Your Health

The real estate industry is credited with coining the phrase “Location is everything,” but the maxim also seems to hold true in health matters. Recent findings show seniors from several ethnic groups who lived in neighborhoods where others shared their backgrounds enjoyed lower rates of heart disease and cancer than those who lived in more mixed areas, according to a soon-to-be published article in the American Journal of Public Health and online, reported Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

For the study, researchers evaluated survey data about the health outcomes of 2,790 African-Americans, age 65 and older, who lived in locations with high numbers of other black folks in New Haven, Connecticut and north-central North Carolina, and 2,367 Mexican-Americans in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas who lived in ethnically dense areas with other Mexican-Americans.

Researchers found that among African Americans who lived in ethnically dense counties of 50 percent or more where the population shared the same background, these folks were 46 percent less likely to report doctor-diagnosed heart disease and 77 percent less likely to report cancer than those who lived in areas that were 25 percent less ethnically dense. In addition, Mexican Americans who lived in counties where half or more of the population shared the same background were 33 percent and 62 percent less likely to report heart disease and cancer, respectively, than those who lived in areas that were less than 25 percent ethnically dense.

According to Becca Levy, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and psychology at the Yale School of Public Health and a study researcher, the reason for this protective factor has everything to do with location and the support systems there. “Communities with high ethnic density may be more likely to share values like respect for elders and have close-knit family structures,” Levy said. “These networks may facilitate better health behaviors and, in turn, better health outcomes.”

Kimberlty Alvarez, another researcher who worked on the same study, and a PhD student at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, added that in these communities, information about free health clinics might be more freely exchanged.

Suggested Alvarez, “Having this information is important given the rapidly growing population of older adult minorities.”

How we design and build our communities also affect the health of the people who live there. Click here to learn more.

Search: Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, Yale University School of Public Health, Kimberly Alvarez, PhD, Becca Levy, PhD, homogenous neighborhoods, heart disease, cancer, African-American seniors, African-Americans seniors, ethnic health outcomes

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