Why where you live can affect your health

by Becky Gibson

There are many different things that can influence your health ranging from your education to your lifestyle choices, but why does where you live influence your health?

One of the main ways of measuring health inequalities across populations is by looking at average life expectancy at time of birth. Globally in 2012 this ranged from 89.7 years old in Monaco to 48.7 in Chad. However, it is not just the country that you live in that can affect life expectancy, where you live within a country can have an impact.

Why does it have an effect?

The controversy of the ‘Postcode Lottery’ in the NHS has been widely documented in the media. However, inequalities in health go further than available treatment for medical conditions. Here are some environmental factors that can influence your health.

The environment where you live can affect your health due to factors such as exposure to second hand smoke, lack of access to green areas and excess noise (WHO,2012). People that lived in greener neighbourhoods reported lower levels of illness and problems with their weight compared to individuals with less access to green spaces (Mitchell & Popham, 2008).

Some research has shown that the affluence of an area is associated with a lower mortality rate (Stafford & Marmot, 2003). However, the geographic distance between areas does not have to be vast in order to have an effect upon life expectancy. In 2005 a male child born in Sandwell, Birmingham, UK had a life expectancy of 74.7 years compared to an average of 78.3 in Solihull despite the small distance of around 12 miles between the two areas.

Certain aspects of a neighbourhood can affect the psychological health of its residents. Psychosocial stress may be linked to the characteristics of an area where someone lives, a link has been found between stress levels and vulnerability to environmental hazards (Gee & Payne-Sturges, 2004). Even something as everyday as traffic stress has been found to have a significant effect upon health and depression levels (Song et al., 2007).

A link has been suggested between the types of shop located in an area and levels of neighbourhood obesity. The availability of supermarkets in a residential area has been associated with a lower community Body Mass Index (Powell et al., 2007), this is thought to be somewhat due to the availability of fresh fruit and vegetables. Similarly it has been argued that the amount of fast food restaurants in an area can have an effect on obesity (Li et al., 2009).

The ‘Stroke Belt’ is a term used to describe an area in the South East U.S. Where there is a higher stroke mortality rate. There have been many attempts to explain this phenomenon looking at factors such as race/ethnicity, risk factors, including obesity and the prevalence of chronic diseases, such as diabetes but there has been no consensus on why it affects this one area as significantly (Liao et al., 2009).

As you can see there are many different environmental factors that can affect your health, the ones discussed here are just the start of a long list. Hopefully it has made you think about where you live and it’s impact on your well-being.

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