Diabetes May be Linked to Patient’s Address

Is diabetes linked to living in a poor neighborhood?  Newly published research reviewing data gathered since the 1990s suggests that it is, and that moving to a better area can cut your chances of getting the disease.  Poor women who were offered a chance to live in better neighborhoods saw their waistlines shrink, their health get better and their risk of diabetes decreased.

Diabetes is associated very strongly with overweight and obesity, and with a poor diet high in fats, sugar and with insufficient dietary fiber.  This sort of diet, of white bread, junk food and very little in the way of fresh fruits, vegetables or salad, is common in households with a lower income and less education.  Moms who have to count every cent have to buy affordable food, which means cheap processed food rather than high cost organic fruit and veggies.  This poor diet contributes in turn to obesity and diabetes, to which some ethnic minorities are also genetically predisposed.

In households that are more affluent the family will eat better because they can afford lean meat, good quality fish, fruit, vegetables and other fresh foods.  Also better education means they are more aware of the dietary benefits of healthy foods.

During the 1990’s, government officials gave women from poor city housing the opportunity to move to better neighborhoods in New York, Boston, Baltimore, Chicago and Los Angeles.  They gave some families vouchers to enable them to move to the better areas, on the proviso that they stayed there for at least one year.  Others were given no vouchers with the expectation they would stay where they were.  The idea of the research was to see if the families could improve their circumstances if they had access to better schools and jobs.  However, the biggest change that was observed was in the health of the mothers, who ten years on from their move had less obesity and less diabetes when they were weighed and given blood tests.  The women had reduced their diabetes rate to 16%, compared to 20% among the women they left behind in the poor housing.  Only 14% of them were classified as morbidly obese, compared to almost 18% of those who stayed behind.  Unfortunately, the researchers had not noted the weight or diabetes rate of the women who moved at the beginning of the ten-year study, because health had not been the subject of the experiment.  However, the compared rates of obesity and diabetes in the two groups of women ten years after the move speak for themselves.

The researchers do not know why the change of address should cause health benefits, but suggested improved circumstances could mean they could afford better and fresh food.  Better neighborhoods might also have more numerous and better health centers.  Also in areas with less poverty and crime exercise such as walking in the street or park is easier and less risky.  Improved morale from living in a better area might also be a factor.

Clearly, the study had some flaws, but the results were significant.  The secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development Mr. Shaun Donovan said, “This study proves that concentrated poverty is not only bad policy, it’s bad for your health.”  He spoke of the need to “break the cycle of poverty that can quite literally make them sick.”

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