Does Poor Housing Raise Diabetes Risk?

By Burton, Adrian | Environmental Health Perspectives, November 2007 | Go to article overview

Does Poor Housing Raise Diabetes Risk?


Burton, Adrian, Environmental Health Perspectives


Poor housing may increase the risk of developing diabetes mellitus among middle-aged black Americans, suggests research published in the 15 August 2007 edition of the American Journal of Epidemiology. What exactly causes this link, however, remains to be explained.

"Many factors linked with the development of diabetes, such as obesity or the use of alcohol or smoking, are commonly present in the lives of people living in poorer housing," explains first author Mario Schootman, chief of the Division of Health Behavior Research at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. But when his team adjusted for these factors, living in a poorly maintained house remained a significant risk for diabetes in its own right. In contrast, the quality of the neighborhood overall was not associated with increased risk.

According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes already affects some 7% of the U.S. population and 13.3% of non-Hispanic blacks, with 90% of these cases comprising type 2 diabetes. The prevalence of diabetes could double by 2050--even triple among blacks, says Schootman. To better understand why this is so, the environmental context in which individuals live, work, and play needs to be taken into account, but until now no work has focused on the effect of neighborhood and housing conditions, factors that have been associated with other health problems including depression.

The researchers interviewed 644 middle-aged subjects enrolled in the African American Health Study who lived in either a poor inner-city area of St. Louis or a less impoverished suburb of the city. At the time of initial interview, no subject declared having been diagnosed with diabetes (the interviewers did not ask specifically about type 1, type 2, or other types of diabetes), although 10.3% went on to develop some form of the problem within three years.

During the first interviews the researchers took note of the respondents' neighborhood and personal housing conditions. Neighborhoods were rated on a four-point scale ranging from excellent to poor depending on the general condition of the houses, the amount of ambient noise, general air quality, the state of repair of the streets, and other factors. …

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