Risk of Developing Diabetes Associated With Neighborhood's Resources

Neighborhoods with more resources that support physical activity and healthy diets were associated with a lower incidence of type 2 diabetes mellitus, according to findings published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Neighborhoods with more resources that support physical activity and healthy diets were associated with a lower incidence of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM), according to findings published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The researchers studied data of 5124 patients free of T2DM with 5 clinical follow-up examinations using data from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, and linked the participants’ addresses to measurements of neighborhood healthy food and physical activity resources.

During the nearly 9 years of follow up, 12% of the participants developed T2DM, and those with greater cumulative exposure to neighborhood healthy foods and physical activity resources had a lower risk of developing the disease.

However, simply having these resources present is not enough—they need to be viewed as accessible by residents in the neighborhood, according to Mercedes Carnethon, MD, co-author and associate professor of preventive medicine-epidemiology at Northwestern Medicine.

“It was somewhat surprising that these associations were present only for ratings of perceived access to food and physical activity,” Dr Carnethon said in a statement. “There were no associations when we actually counted the number of stores or characterized the physical environment using measures determined from the U.S. Census.”

The researchers supposed that the importance of perceived access may be due to other factors, such as the cost of healthy food options, which also may limit access.

“For example, a woman may live with her family less than one mile from a store with a broad selection of fruits and vegetables, but if she can’t afford to buy the items in that store it’s not a healthy food option for her,” Dr Carnethon said.

Dr Carnethon is continuing to examine how the availability of healthy foods is related to health as part of a long-term study at Northwestern called the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults. Her hope is that this type of research can be used to justify policies that improve access to healthy foods in communities with a high burden of preventable chronic diseases.

“Modifying neighborhood environments may represent a complementary, population-based approach to prevention of T2DM, although further intervention studies are needed,” the authors concluded.