Is Your Neighborhood Killing You?

Can Your Neighborhood Kill You?Yes, your neighborhood can significantly impact your health - and life span.

Two recent, unrelated reports provide some insight. The first, a study by the Alameda County Public Health Department, was completed to determine the non-medical causes of disease of varying populations in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The second study, by the University of California's Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, measured air pollution in neighborhoods near regional airports.

Conclusion? Location matters.

Let's begin with air pollution caused by regional airports. It turns out this has greater health impact than first believed. Despite mandated buffer zones, small airports near residential areas easily pollute nearby neighborhoods. These neighborhoods suffer from ultra-fine pollution particles in "significantly elevated" concentration. The UC report shows as much as 10 times more particle pollution than that of background pollution levels. Worse, the neighborhood next to the airport had levels five-to-eight times higher than a similar neighborhood next to a highway.

Similarly, research from Alameda makes the case that unhealthy neighborhoods play a far greater role in triggering diseases than germs, bad genes or irresponsible behavior. They conclude that more health care dollars should be spent on the root causes of ill health, and neighborhood conditions play a role. The researchers found that health can be linked to neighborhood factors such as:

  • Infrastructure - Choosing healthy lifestyle habits is more difficult in neighborhoods that lack basic resources such as safe parks, libraries, good schools and neighborhood grocery stores.

  • Stress - Constant stress, induced, for example, by living in fear of neighborhood crime or under the burden of financial problems, floods the bloodstream with cortisol and adrenaline. High levels of these stress-hormones are linked with the onset of numerous chronic diseases.

  • Social support - Community centers and schools, as well as healthy personal relationships - are weaker in poorer neighborhoods. Social support plays a powerful role in living longer according to numerous studies.

What can be done? To reduce airport pollutants some suggest replacing regional air service with light rail. Others advocate for new urbanism development and planning that call for the re-introducing people-scaled, walkable neighborhoods as a means to increase a neighborhood's health. Long-term, we must challenge the isolated, car dependent, and oil-dependent status quo of residential developments in the last 50 years.

In the short term, if possible, pack your bags and move.

via Tree Hugger, The Oakland Tribune
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