Neighborhoods and Health

Just as conditions in our homes have  implications for our health, the neighborhoods where we live can have major effects on our health and opportunities to be healthy.

How Can Your Neighborhood Affect Your Health?

Our neighborhoods are highly correlated with the quality of our housing, municipal services, health care and educational and employment opportunities, which can have a significant impact on our health. Depending on where we live, our health may be adversely affected by neighborhood characteristics such as poor air and water quality, proximity to hazardous substances, substandard housing, and lack of access to nutritious foods and safe places to exercise or play. Conversely, for many, neighborhood aspects such as presence of sidewalks and playgrounds, after-school programs for children, and affordable nutritious food encourage healthy behaviors and make it easier to maintain them.

While the percentage of individuals living in poor neighborhoods varies considerably across states, some groups are more likely to live in poor neighborhoods than others. Between 1970 and 2000, poor families became more likely to live in neighborhoods with concentrated poverty and rich families more likely to live in neighborhoods with concentrated wealth. Individuals in minority racial or ethnic groups also are more likely to live in poor neighborhoods. These neighborhood differences can create and reinforce social disadvantages that contribute to health disparities along socioeconomic, racial or ethnic lines, given disproportionate access to resources and exposures to conditions that are harmful to health.

Strategies to Create Healthier Neighborhoods

Although the links between neighborhoods and health are complex, overwhelming evidence indicates that neighborhoods influence health in important ways. Children may be particularly vulnerable to unhealthy conditions in neighborhoods, with consequences for health in childhood and later in life. Below are examples of public and private-sector policies to create healthier neighborhoods for everyone, particularly those who live in conditions which present the greatest threats to health.

  • Bringing retail food markets into disadvantaged communities, to increase the availability of affordable, healthy food choices in neighborhoods that have the most limited choices.
  • Smart growth, such as the clustering of homes near shopping areas, public transportation and employment possibilities.
  • Community revitalization initiatives designed to promote neighborhood economic development and improve physical, social and service environments in neighborhoods.
  • Community organizing to motivate action, bringing people together to work collectively to improve neighborhoods.
  • Environmental justice interventions to reduce toxic exposures in the physical environment in communities with large concentrations of low-income residents.
  • Strategies to reduce residential segregation, such as through zoning, affordable housing in neighborhoods with quality schools and employment opportunities, and enforcement of fair housing laws.