By Dr. Chinta Sidharthan, Reviewed by Lily Ramsey, LLM – Oct 6, 2023
In a recent study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers have discovered a noteworthy correlation between women residing in walkable neighborhoods and a decreased incidence of obesity-related cancers. These cancers include postmenopausal breast cancer, multiple myeloma, ovarian cancer, and endometrial cancer.
The escalating prevalence of obesity, affecting over 40% of adults in the United States, has become a significant health concern. Obesity is closely tied to an increased risk of various cancers, especially among women, with approximately 55% of diagnosed cancers in women being associated with obesity. Inactivity further amplifies the risk of obesity-related cancers, emphasizing the need for physical activity in maintaining good health.
Recent research has focused on the impact of the built environment on physical activity and, consequently, on health and disease. Walking has emerged as a crucial moderate-intensity physical activity that contributes substantially to recommended exercise levels.
About the Study:
This study delves into the relationship between neighborhood walkability and the risk of obesity-related cancers in women. “Neighborhood walkability” refers to urban features that promote walking and pedestrian activity, taking into account factors like population density and destination accessibility.
Participants in the study were drawn from the New York University Women’s Health Study, comprising over 14,000 women in New York City recruited between 1985 and 1991, with a follow-up period of nearly 30 years.
Baseline assessments were conducted, and subsequent questionnaires, collecting health, lifestyle, and socio-demographic information, were administered every three to five years. Residential addresses were verified regularly over the 30-year period, allowing for the calculation of annual neighborhood walkability.
The primary focus was on the incidence of obesity-related cancers, including postmenopausal breast, colorectal, endometrial, pancreatic, renal, ovarian, thyroid, esophageal, gallbladder, and liver cancers. Cancer diagnoses and subtypes were confirmed using medical records and ICD-9 codes.
The study revealed a notable association between high walkability levels in neighborhoods and a decreased risk of both site-specific and overall obesity-related cancers in women. Additionally, lower neighborhood poverty levels were linked to reduced cancer risks.
Over a 24-year follow-up period, the incidence of postmenopausal breast cancer was significantly lower in women residing in areas with higher walkability. The study also identified moderate associations between neighborhood walkability and multiple myeloma, endometrial, and ovarian cancers.Download the latest edition
These findings underscore the significant impact of urban landscape designs on the health and disease patterns in aging populations. Despite established connections between low physical activity, obesity, and increased cancer risk in women, interventions for these issues are often short-term or financially burdensome.
Walkable neighborhoods facilitate walking as a habitual and potentially social activity, encouraging increased physical activity and a decreased reliance on vehicles. Notably, the inverse correlation between walkable spaces and obesity-related cancer incidence persisted even after adjusting for variables like BMI. The researchers suggest that increased walkability may also encourage more vigorous activities such as running and biking, further influencing the positive results.
In conclusion, the study asserts that women residing in neighborhoods with enhanced walkability experience a reduced risk of obesity-related cancers, including postmenopausal breast cancer. Additionally, lower rates of multiple myeloma, ovarian, and endometrial cancers were associated with more walkable residential areas. Moreover, neighborhood poverty levels seemed to influence the relationship between walkability and cancer risk among women.
Chinta Sidharthan is a writer based in Bangalore, India. Her academic background is in evolutionary biology and genetics, and she has extensive experience in scientific research, teaching, science writing, and herpetology. Chinta holds a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the Indian Institute of Science and is passionate about science education, writing, animals, wildlife, and conservation.