Walkable’ neighborhoods lower women’s cancer risk.

Walkable' neighborhoods lower women's cancer risk.

Living in Walkable Neighborhoods Linked to Lower Rates of Obesity-Related Cancers, Especially in Women

Walking Neighborhood

Living in a neighborhood that is easy to walk in could have significant health benefits, especially for women. Recent research conducted by several universities in New York City has found that women who live in walkable neighborhoods have lower rates of obesity-related cancers, including postmenopausal breast cancer, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, and multiple myeloma.

Andrew Rundle, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, stated that these results contribute to the growing evidence of how urban design affects the health and well-being of aging populations. Implementing interventions to increase physical activity and reduce obesity can be costly, and they often only have temporary effects. However, urban design that promotes walking, increases overall physical activity, and reduces car-dependency can create a context that leads to long-term improvements in preventing diseases attributed to unhealthy weight.

Past research has already established a link between obesity and increased risk for 13 types of cancer in women, independent of body size. Physical activity has been shown to lower the risk for some of these cancers. To further investigate this relationship, the study analyzed data from more than 14,000 women aged 35 to 65 who were recruited at a New York City mammography screening center between 1985 and 1991. The women were followed for three decades, during which the research team assessed the association between neighborhood walkability (measured using U.S. Census-tracts) and the risk of obesity-related cancers.

By the end of 2016, about 18% of the women had developed an obesity-related cancer. The most common type was postmenopausal breast cancer at 53%, followed by colon cancer at 14% and endometrial cancer at 12%. The study found that women who had lived in the most walkable areas (top 25%) had a 26% lower risk of obesity-related cancers compared to those residing in the least walkable (lowest 25%) neighborhoods.

These findings emphasize the importance of considering neighborhood walkability when designing cities and communities. Creating environments that encourage physical activity and reduce car usage not only benefits individuals by reducing their risk of obesity-related cancers, but it also contributes to overall population health. Interestingly, the study also revealed that the association between high neighborhood walkability and lower risk of obesity-related cancers was stronger for women living in neighborhoods with higher levels of poverty. This suggests that neighborhood social and economic factors also play a significant role in the development of obesity-related cancers.

The study, funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, was published on October 3, 2023, in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. These findings provide valuable insights for policymakers and urban planners looking to create healthier, more walkable communities.



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