Research Finds Better Neighborhoods Lead to Better Health

September 21, 2012  |  

A federal housing program, Moving to Opportunity, was launched in the 1990s with a twofold goal — give low-income families better access to education and income by moving them into mixed-income neighborhoods and study the effects of that move on the 2,000 participating moms and their kids.

According to The Wall Street Journal, while the financial and educational fortunes of these families didn’t really change, there was a marked improvement in their health.

“Participants had significantly lower rates of diabetes, extreme obesity, anxiety and stress than those who stayed behind. They were also much happier with their lives overall—something researchers said was particularly important,” the story says.

The story points out that while racial segregation has decreased in recent times, economic segregation has not, creating an “increase in poverty concentration” that’s having averse effects on the people who live in these disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Critics argue that the amount of money given to families to move to these new neighborhoods wasn’t enough to have an impact on the other factors being tested. Moreover, they were moved to neighborhoods where the poverty level was still at one-third. In their previous neighborhoods, poverty levels reached one-half.

“Nearly three-quarters of the families who signed up for the program said they had done so to get away from violence in dangerous neighborhoods,” The New York Times reports. In both an interesting and shocking twist, the study also found that the good feeling was higher in neighborhoods that were more racially segregated when compared to those that were integrated.

The significance of the findings aren’t lost on Barbara Samuels, an ACLU lawyer quoted in the WSJ story, who says the “hopelessness, of being literally almost physically oppressed by your surroundings” is common. Certainly, someone who’s worried and depressed, then encircled by those same feelings of desperation is going to experience a negative effect on their physical and mental health.


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