The environment in which you live has a significant impact on your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to new research.
The study, conducted at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, suggests that access to healthy food and physical activity resources make a big impact on the rates of type 2 diabetes in a certain area.
The research further emphasises the link between affluence and risk of certain diseases, including type 2 diabetes.
The study was conducted using 5,000 participants, whose risk of developing type 2 diabetes was followed over a number of years. 12 per cent of the participants developed type 2 diabetes. The researchers discovered that those who lived in areas with more access to physical activity had a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, as did people with more access to healthy food.
The findings may sound obvious, but they support what is still a somewhat unpopular notion: that affluence and environment can have a big impact on type 2 diabetes risk. Lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes – at least, type 2 diabetes caused by lifestyle factors – is, according to this study, about more than simply “individual choice.” Based on their social and economic situation, some people might not have the right resources.
“Although we do not yet know what elements of neighbourhoods are most essential for generating better health, these researchers provide important clues about which elements have an effect and for whom,” said Nancy Adler, PhD, and Aric Prather, PhD, in an editorial accompanying the research.
“In brief, the risk for type 2 diabetes mellitus is a combination of both person and place, and our national strategies need to understand and intervene across these levels.”
The researchers used two methods to gauge to availability of healthy food and physical activity: one, based on a system of geographic information; and the second based on surveys.
Among other findings, the study indicated that neighbourhood resources tended to be less available for ethnic minorities, and for people in less economically developed areas generally.
“The behavioural causes of obesity – diet and exercise – are strongly rooted in factors outside the healthcare system,” said Adler and Prather.
“Traditional medical treatments alone cannot substantially lower the prevalence and impact of obesity without changes in the obesogenic environment.”
The research could be used to inform government plans for the development of local areas. In trying to mitigate the huge financial strain placed on healthcare by type 2 diabetes, the lack of support by the government for local neighbourhoods could contribute somewhat to a solution.
Although the study was conducted using data from American towns and cities, there is no reason the research would not be applicable to the UK. Ensuring that British cities provide more access to healthy food and physical activity could reduce levels of type 2 diabetes, and in doing so reduce the financial burden on the NHS.
“Our results suggest that modifying specific features of neighbourhood environments, including increasing the availability of healthy foods and physical activity resources, may help to mitigate the risk of [type 2 diabetes] although additional intervention studies with measures of multiple neighbourhood features are needed,” wrote lead researcher Paul Christine and colleagues.
“Such approaches may be especially important for addressing disparities in [type 2 diabetes] given the concentration of low-income and minority populations in neighbourhoods with fewer health-promoting resources.”

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