Moving away from diabetes, extreme obesity

By • Published: January 25th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Does where you live affect your weight? It might, according to an article recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Results of a social experiment organized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development suggest that moving away from areas with high poverty rates might help people shed pounds and resist diabetes.

The experiment involved women raising children in very poor neighborhoods. A third of them received vouchers to help them move into areas with less poverty. Another group received housing vouchers for use anywhere. The last group received no vouchers.

Some of the women with vouchers used them, while others didn’t. Still, the group that received vouchers for low-poverty areas had a larger percentage of families living in such neighborhoods one year later. When researchers revisited the women 10 to 15 years later, that group also had a lower level of extreme obesity and unhealthful blood sugar measures than the control group did.

The researchers said they don’t know for sure why that was the case. It could be that the lower-poverty neighborhoods these women moved to were safer than their old ones, allowing for outdoor exercise. The new surroundings might have offered more access to fitness facilities, grocery stores and health-care providers. Perhaps healthful behaviors were more prevalent in the higher-income areas, encouraging women to make constructive lifestyle changes.

According to the Census Bureau, an estimated 49.1 million people in the U.S. are living in poverty. The National Center for Health Statistics says that the prevalence of obesity among women increases as their income decreases. Can our nation effectively combat obesity or diabetes by helping women and families escape poverty-stricken areas? It’s too soon to say for sure, but the idea definitely deserves more investigation.