Posted on Jul 04, 2023, 6 p.m.
According to research published in the journal Health & Place conducted by researchers at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at the University of California San Diego, adults living in walkable neighborhoods are more likely to interact with their neighbors and develop a stronger sense of community that those who live in car-dependent communities.
The Surgeon General Advisory in May 2023 stated that loneliness and isolation can lead to a 29% increased risk of heart disease, 32% increased risk of stroke, 50% increased risk of developing dementia, and more than 60% increased risk of premature death. To address this public health concern, the Surgeon General recommends strengthening social infrastructure by creating more environments that are designed to promote connection, interaction, and physical activity.
“Our built environments create or deny long-lasting opportunities for socialization, physical activity, contact with nature, and other experiences that affect public health,” said James F. Sallis, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and senior author of the UC San Diego study. “Transportation and land use policies across the U.S. have strongly prioritized car travel and suburban development, so millions of Americans live in neighborhoods where they must drive everywhere, usually alone, and have little or no chance to interact with their neighbors.”
For this study, the researchers analyzed data from the Neighborhood Quality of Life Study that included 1,745 adults between the ages of 20-66 who lived in and around 32 neighborhoods across Seattle, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. Findings from this study support one of the 6 foundational pillars that were suggested by the Surgeon General as part of a national strategy to address the public health crisis that is caused by the loneliness, isolation, and lack of connection in America that was intensified by recent lockdowns.
Unfortunately, there are too many neighborhoods in America that prioritize car travel and lack opportunities for interaction with neighbors and physical activity. Walkable neighborhoods have been shown to help promote active lifestyles and more healthful behaviors such as walking or riding bikes for leisure or for transportation to school, work, running errands, or shopping. The environment can play a big part in shaping social experiences as well, and these types of neighborhoods are more likely to promote social interactions such as waving hello, socializing in homes, gathering in common places, or asking for help. Walkable neighborhoods can also help to reduce traffic incidents, promote physical activity, and enhance social health outcomes by making people feel more connected and supported.
“Promoting social interaction is an important public health goal. Understanding the role of neighborhood design bolsters our ability to advocate for the health of our communities and the individuals who reside in them,” said the first author, Jacob R. Carson, M.P.H.
“Fewer traffic incidents, increases in physical activity, and better neighborhood social health outcomes are just a few of the results of designing walkable neighborhoods that can enrich our lives.”
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
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