A Neighborhood's Built Environment May Have Numerous Effects on Its Residents' Health

Examining the interaction between social environment and the health of low-income populations in Oregon

    • January 14, 2014

Dates of Project: November 2010 to February 2013

Researchers from the Oregon Health Study profiled low-income Portland neighborhoods to uncover links among access to health insurance, health and health care use, and the physical and social conditions of the neighborhoods where people live.

To assess the impact of neighborhood environments on the health of participants in the Oregon Health Study, the researchers first profiled the neighborhoods where the participants lived. For this work, the research team drew on the Active Neighborhood Checklist developed through Active Living Research, an RWJF national program (see Program Results Report for more information on the program), and criteria from RWJF’s Commission to Build a Healthier America.

To create the neighborhood profiles, six full-time auditors spent a year evaluating the attributes of more than 14,000 street segments in 196 census tracts in the Portland area.

Key Findings

  • Among the preliminary findings of the study are:

    • A neighborhood’s built environment may have numerous effects on residents’ health. For example, the more grocery stores in close proximity to where people live, the lower their blood pressure and body mass index tend to be. A fast food outlet in close proximity to where people live is linked to higher body mass index.
    • Low-income neighborhoods vary significantly in the physical and social characteristics that affect health. For example, the number of grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods ranged from 0 to 31.
    • The relationship between a neighborhood’s racial and ethnic composition and its physical and social characteristics also varies widely.

The researchers next plan to investigate the interplay between insurance coverage, neighborhood characteristics, and people’s health and use of health care.

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Oregon Health Study researchers map how communities and living conditions affect health.

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