Red Heart

Neighborhoods impact heart health By: Bill Levesque

Our neighborhoods, the original social networks, help define us. Among friends, family and strangers, they are a collection of shared experiences. Their markets and hospitals, their traffic and trees, their crime and pollution shape our lives.

And our heart health.

A new study says neighborhoods significantly impact residents’ incidence of heart failure. This is a finding that does not appear to be tied to individual income, education level and traditional risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Think of it this way: Even if you live a comfortable, middle-class life and eat well, the fact that socioeconomic factors in your neighborhood are more stressed than in your own home still impacts your health.

In a more deprived neighborhood, you face a higher risk of heart failure, according to the study published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes by scientists at Vanderbilt University.

The study looked at about 27,000 predominantly low-income people from 12 states in the southeastern U.S. with an average age of 55. The incidence of heart failure was tracked during a five-year period. The study calculated that 5 percent of overall heart failure risk could be explained by neighborhood deprivation.

The things that make neighborhoods unique may explain the trend, researchers say. Stressors like high crime and heavy traffic, a lack of available health care or an absence of fresh food markets, among other things, all play a part in our health.

Scientists say improving community resources requires consideration by policymakers when working to better our health.

The influences on our health apparently extend beyond our personal choices.

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