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31-10-2011 | Diabetes | Article

Neighborhood poverty levels linked to obesity and diabetes risk


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MedWire News: The opportunity to move from a neighborhood with a high level of poverty to one with a lower level is associated with reductions in the prevalence of extreme obesity and diabetes, report US researchers.

The results raise the possibility that clinical or public health interventions that ameliorate the effects of neighborhood environment on obesity and diabetes could generate substantial social benefits, say Jens Ludwig (University of Chicago) and team.

As reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers examined data from the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) program, which was designed to investigate the effects of neighborhood characteristics on social and health outcomes in families.

The program involved 4498 women with children living in high-poverty urban areas (≥40% residents had incomes below the federal poverty threshold) who were randomly assigned to receive either low-poverty housing subsidy vouchers, traditional vouchers, or neither of these opportunities (control group).

The low-poverty vouchers were redeemable only in low-poverty areas (in which <10% residents were poor) while there were no restrictions on where families could reside with the traditional vouchers.

Between 2008 and 2010, Ludwig and team followed-up the participants and recorded their height, weight, and glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) levels.

The study revealed that assignment to receive low-poverty vouchers was significantly associated with decreased risk for extreme obesity and diabetes.

Compared with women in the control group, those who received low-poverty vouchers had a 4.61% lower prevalence of a BMI of 35 or more and a 3.38% lower prevalence of a BMI of 40 or more.

They also had a 4.31% lower prevalence of HbA1c of 6.50% or more.

No such differences were observed between the group that received traditional vouchers and the control group.

Interestingly, not all women used their vouchers; of 1788 women assigned to receive a low-poverty voucher, less than half (n=852) actually used the voucher to move.

The authors say their finding that neighborhood environments are associated with the prevalence of obesity and diabetes may have implications for understanding trends and disparities in overall health across the USA.

"Further investigation is warranted to provide guidance in designing neighborhood-level interventions to improve health," they conclude.

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Current Medicine Group, a trading division of Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2010

By Sally Robertson