Poor neighborhood conditions triple risk for disabilities

St. Louis, March 1, 2006 -- A comparison of residential areas in the St. Louis region reveals that late middle-aged and older African-Americans who live in rundown neighborhoods with poor air and street quality are three times more likely to develop difficulties walking, standing, or lifting than those in cleaner, better-maintained areas.

The study was conducted by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Indiana University School of Medicine and other institutions and will appear in the March 1 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

"Our study shows that it's not just who you are or what you do, but where you live that affects your well-being," says lead author Mario Schootman, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Health Behavior Research. "It also suggests that the effort to revitalize inner-city neighborhoods can have the added benefit of improving the health of individuals living there."

The study is an outgrowth of a larger health study of African-Americans. In that study members of the research group investigated the factors responsible for the excess health problems experienced by late middle-aged and older African-Americans living in St. Louis. It revealed a high level of disability risk among older African-Americans living in St. Louis.

For the current study, the researchers rated neighborhoods based on noise, air quality and the condition of houses, streets, yards and sidewalks. Such elements as broken windows, faulty siding, cracks and holes in sidewalks and high levels of industry or traffic noise lowered a neighborhood's rating.

The St. Louis neighborhoods studied included a poor, inner-city area and a less-impoverished, suburban area with a variety of socioeconomic conditions. The scientists assessed limitations in lower-body function in 563 African American men and women, age 50 to 64, living in the neighborhoods.

Good lower-body function is critical for mainta

Contact: Gwen Ericson
Washington University School of Medicine

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