A Healthier Neighborhood

Published in the Winter 2012 issue of SSA Magazine

A quite different approach to lowering rates of diabetes for low-income women has recently been uncovered by a team of researchers: Move to a neighborhood with lower rates of poverty.

The study was the latest findings from Moving to Opportunity, a large-scale randomized clinical trial of the connections between neighborhood poverty and family well-being (see “The Science of Social Welfare,” in the Spring 2011 issue for more about MTO ). Jens Ludwig, SSA’s McCormick Foundation Professor of Social Service Administration, Law and Public Policy, and a team of scholars from around the country published their findings in the October 20, 2011 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. MTO was directed at low-income families with children living in distressed public housing. Based on the results of a random lottery, some families were offered a chance to use a housing voucher subsidy to move into a lower-poverty community, while a control group received no special assistance. Ludwig’s team found that the rates of morbid obesity and diabetes were both about one fifth lower for the women who moved into a lower-poverty neighborhood than in the control group.

“These findings provide strong evidence that the environments in low-income neighborhoods can contribute to poor health,” Ludwig says. “The results highlight the great importance of learning more about what specific aspects of the social or physical environment reduce the risk of diabetes and obesity; for example, greater access to grocery stores, more opportunities for physical activity, or feelings of greater safety and reduced psychological stress.”