Study reveals some neighborhood types hold a direct link to lower risk of multiple cancers — here’s why

Women often have to put their foot down when taking control of their health, and now it seems that this is more literal than metaphorical.

As reported by the Guardian, a new study recently published in Environmental Health Perspectives has found that living in neighborhoods with dense populations and access to small businesses and grocery stores promotes walking. The study also found that women living in walkable neighborhoods were up to 26% less likely to develop obesity-related cancers, including postmenopausal breast, ovarian, pancreatic, and colorectal cancers and multiple myeloma.

Other studies, like one published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, have found that as little as 75 minutes a week of moderately intense physical activity substantially lowers the risk of dying from certain types of cancer or heart disease, two of the leading causes of death among adults.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the percentage of cancers in women related to obesity or being overweight was more than twice the percentage of cancers in men related to these factors.

For this reason, according to the Guardian, the study conducted by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine focused specifically on women. They studied more than 14,000 women between the ages of 34 and 65 from 1985 to 2016. The study utilized data over an average of 24 years of the 31-year span and is the first of its kind to do so.

“We showed that neighborhood walkability is related to risk of obesity-related cancer, postmenopausal breast cancer specifically, in women over a long period of time,” co-author Yu Chen, an epidemiologist at New York University, told the Guardian.

One of the main reasons for unwalkable neighborhoods in the United States is the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which led to the development of 41,000 miles of highway. The project razed communities and divided neighborhoods to create car-centric cities, per the Guardian.

And as it sadly often goes, the communities affected most were those already disenfranchised. A recent Reddit post showcased Detroit as a classic example of this.

"Focusing on people ... is key.”
Photo Credit: Reddit

Cities are starting to focus on walkable communities, like this example of “new urbanism” in Austin, which turned its defunct Mueller Airport into a community of walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods with a range of housing options.

“Urban planning is related to the health of individuals. Improving built environments can promote healthy habits that protect people from obesity-related disease,” Sandra India-Aldana, the report’s lead author and a researcher at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York, told the Guardian.

The new study showed that walkable neighborhoods appeared to be most beneficial to women in low-income areas — with a 19% reduction of risk among residents of poorer neighborhoods, compared with a 6% reduction in wealthier communities.

Roshanak Mehdipanah, a public health researcher at the University of Michigan who was not involved in the study, said to the Guardian: “The highways were strategically placed to run through neighborhoods of predominantly Black and brown people. Focusing on people and not on cars, and investing in not only walkability, but also in the well-being, safety and security of people without marginalizing them further, is key.”

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