Where you live can affect health and happiness, US research suggests

by Ray Clancy on October 18, 2012

People are happier and healthier when satisfied with where they live, study finds

Choosing carefully where to live when you move to the United States could affect how happy and healthy you are, research suggests.

People who are satisfied with the city in which they live or feel that it is becoming a better place to live are less likely to report having experienced physical pain, having health problems, being obese, having headaches, or having ever been diagnosed with asthma or high cholesterol.

They are also more likely to report feeling well rested and having enough energy, research from Gallup and Healthways has found.

Indeed, those who are either satisfied with their community or feel that their community is becoming a better place to live have Physical Health Index scores that are roughly nine points higher than those who are not satisfied with their communities or feel that their community is becoming a worse place to live.

Additionally, adults who say their city is getting better as a place to live are less likely to report having ever been diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol than those who say their city is getting worse as a place to live.

However, residents who are satisfied with their city are no less likely to report these three health issues than those who are dissatisfied.

Gallup said that these results hold true even when controlling for income, education, and ethnicity, revealing that individuals’ perceptions of their communities are important, regardless of their demographic or socioeconomic situation.

The research also found that those who feel safe while walking alone at night in the city or area where they live are in better physical health than those who do not feel safe doing so. Similarly, those who say they have easy access to a safe place to exercise in the city or area where they live are in better physical health than those who don’t.

Although income, education, and ethnicity are correlated with health outcomes, tapping into an individual’s perceptions about where they live sheds light on community level factors that may influence the physical health of Americans. While there may be other factors at play here, such as age, the data suggest that there is a relationship between community perceptions and health.

‘These findings provide support for the ecological model of health, which suggests that one’s living conditions, community safety, community development, and civic engagement, among other factors, affect community members’ health outcomes,’ said Gallup.

‘The relationship between community level perspectives and physical health may have significant implications for urban planning and community improvement efforts, particularly in light of the increase in cardiovascular disease and obesity over the past decade,’ its report explained.

Data shows that US cities with the highest rates of obesity spend approximately $50 million per 100,000 residents to cover the direct costs associated with obesity and related conditions, such as cardiovascular disease.

The American Heart Association suggests that costs to treat cardiovascular disease may triple by 2030. At the same time, the growing trend of childhood obesity will greatly increase the percentage of American adults with cardiovascular disease and related conditions in the coming decades.

‘As policymakers consider solutions to end the epidemic of obesity and bring down its associated healthcare costs in the US, discussions about community infrastructure may become increasingly prevalent. Urban planners and local governments can help ensure residents in their cities are not only satisfied with their community, but also have safe places to engage in physical activities,’ the report concluded.

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