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Bad Neighborhoods May Be Disabling

Dirty, noisy surroundings triple risk for disability, study finds

FRIDAY, March 10, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- People living in run-down, noisy neighborhoods with poor air quality are three times more likely to develop physical disabilities than residents of cleaner, better-maintained neighborhoods, a new study finds.

Researchers did an initial assessment of lower-body function in 563 black American women and men, aged 50 to 64, living in a poor, inner-city area of St. Louis and in a less-impoverished suburban area of the city. The study participants were reassessed three years later.

The neighborhoods were rated based on noise, air quality and the condition of houses, streets, yards and sidewalks. Factors such as broken windows and faulty siding on buildings, cracks and holes in sidewalks, and high levels of traffic or industrial noise lowered a neighborhood's rating.

Air quality and street and road quality had the greatest effect on disability development over the three-year study period, the researchers concluded.

"Our study shows that it's not just who you are or what you do, but where you live that affects your well-being," study author Mario Schootman, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of health behavior research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said in a prepared statement.

"It also suggests that the effort to revitalize inner-city neighborhoods can have the added benefit of improving the health of individuals living there," Schootman said.

"Right now, the reason for the association between poor neighborhood conditions and physical disabilities is unclear," study senior author Dr. Douglas K. Miller, a professor of medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine, said in a prepared statement.

"It's possible that people in neighborhoods where the sidewalks are hard to navigate and the streets are noisy are more apt to stay indoors instead of walking or going out to see friends. The social isolation such people experience can have a strong negative impact on health. In addition, staying indoors could give them greater exposure to indoor hazards including allergens," Miller said.

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SOURCE: Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, news release, March 2, 2006
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