Moving to better neighborhoods may help individuals lower their type 2 diabetes risk

Simply moving to a more prosperous community may help individuals significantly reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes and obesity, according to a new study out of the University of Chicago.

The team reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that individuals who had moved out of low-income neighborhoods into more economically privileged areas had much lower rates of metabolic conditions than individuals who remained in disadvantaged environments.

For the study, the researchers examined the health of individuals who had participated in the Moving to Opportunity program. Between 1994 and 1998, this initiative selected low socioeconomic-status families to receive either a voucher to move to a low-poverty neighborhood, a voucher to move wherever the family chose or standard assistance without relocation.

The results showed that the families that moved to higher income neighborhoods had significantly lower rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes several years after their relocation. Women and their children experienced the greatest benefits from the relocation.

Rates of type 2 diabetes are significantly higher in low-income areas. The researchers said the findings raise important questions about the causes of this correlation. They suggested that an individual's environment may have more to do with the connection than a person's income.

Low-income areas generally have fewer grocery stores, opportunities for physical activity and lead to greater feelings of mental stress. All these factors can lead a person to rely on unhealthy foods and lead to sedentary lifestyles. This may partially explain why targeted behavioral interventions are often ineffective among these groups.

"These findings provide strong evidence that the environments in low-income neighborhoods can contribute to poor health," said Jens Ludwig, who led the investigation. "The increase in U.S. residential segregation according to income in recent decades suggests that a larger portion of the population is being exposed to distressed neighborhood environments."

The researchers added that the findings have implications for all levels of society, given the fact that the high cost associated with treating type 2 diabetes often leads to price escalations throughout the entire healthcare system.

While higher rates of type 2 diabetes among low-income individuals may primarily affect the health of this population, its consequences can bleed out and impact people on all rungs of the income ladder.