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Study Reveals Link Between Neighborhood Environments and Likelihood of Metabolic Syndrome

Can designing more active neighborhoods help enhance metabolic health and prevent cardiovascular diseases? Researchers answer

The design and quality of neighborhoods can greatly influence the health of its residents. In a new study, researchers from Japan and Canada examined the relationship between the built environment of neighborhoods and metabolic syndrome. They found that neighborhoods with more active living options and higher population density were associated with fewer risk factors for metabolic syndrome, highlighting the importance of redesigning neighborhoods to prevent and potentially manage metabolic syndrome and improve population health.

Cardiovascular diseases continue to be the leading causes of death worldwide. Metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors including hypertension and obesity, significantly increases the likelihood of cardiovascular diseases. Behavioral and lifestyle modifications, including regular physical activity, have been identified as important factors in the prevention and management of metabolic syndrome. Creating activity-friendly environments can facilitate regular physical activity, thus reducing the risk of developing metabolic syndrome. Unfortunately, there is limited research directly investigating this connection between the neighborhood environment and the prevalence of metabolic syndrome.

To address this gap, a group of researchers from Japan and Canada led by Associate Professor Mohammad Javad Koohsari from the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (JAIST), an adjunct researcher at the Waseda University as well, conducted a study to explore associations between an activity-friendly built environment and metabolic syndrome in a sample of Canadian adults. "Targeted policy and population-level strategies have long been recognized as a tool for preventing cardiovascular diseases and studies like these play a crucial role in shaping policy and practice through informative insights," says Dr. Koohsari. Professor Yukari Nagai from JAIST, Professor Koichiro Oka from Waseda University, Professor Tomoki Nakaya from Tohoku University, Professor Akitomo Yasunaga from Bunka Gakuen University and Associate Professor Gavin R. McCormack from the University of Calgary, Canada, were also involved in this study.

The study utilized cross-sectional data from Alberta's Tomorrow Project (ATP), a province-wide cohort dataset in Alberta, Canada. Researchers examined data from ATP participants who completed the health and lifestyle survey, underwent physical measurements and provided biological samples, and resided in urban areas. A total of 6,718 participants were enrolled, consisting of 4,455 women and 2,263 men. The average age of the participants was 54 years and 34% of the participants had metabolic syndrome. The team measured the "greenness" of each participant's neighborhood using the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI). They also examined specific features of the neighborhoods related to physical activity, such the density of homes, the number of intersections, and the number of places of interest.

The results showed that neighborhoods with a higher number of 'points of interest'--which refers to destinations such as schools, parks, and shops--and a friendlier environment for active living were associated with fewer risk factors for metabolic syndrome. Essentially, residing in a neighborhood that offers more destinations, walkability, and opportunities for physical activity was linked to improved metabolic health. Interestingly, the researchers also found fewer health-related risk factors in areas with a higher number of homes. This can be attributed to increased access to amenities, facilitating social interaction, and reducing reliance on cars. Such environments foster active transportation, encouraging individuals to engage in walking or cycling, which further enhances their overall metabolic well-being. The study also noted that the NDVI was higher for women compared to men, indicating that women tend to live in neighborhoods with more greenery. However, no significant associations were found for NDVI or intersection density in relation to the metabolic syndrome outcomes.

The findings of the current study align with previous research, indicating that activity-friendly neighborhoods, characterized by a higher number of destinations, dwelling density, and overall active living environment friendliness, were associated with lower odds of having metabolic syndrome. "These findings indicate the importance of designing neighborhoods that encourage physical activity, as they can significantly improve overall population health," concludes Dr. Koohsari.

The study also emphasizes the need for additional research to investigate alternative measures of residential greenness and highlights the importance of cautious interpretation when generalizing findings from non-Canadian studies, considering differences in climate, politics, healthcare systems, and culture.


Image information for EurekAlert:
Image Title: A man with a cardiovascular condition
Image Caption: Metabolic syndrome serves as a pathway to numerous chronic diseases, including diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Image Credit: Public Domain (rawpixel)
Image Source Link:
License Type: CC0 1.0 Universal


Image information for EurekAlert:
Image Title: An urban neighborhood
Image Caption: (Re)designing neighborhoods to prevent and potentially manage metabolic syndrome is a population-based approach
Image Credit: Rae Allen on Flickr
Image Source Link:
License Type: CC BY 2.0


Title of original paper: The contributions of neighbourhood design in promoting metabolic health
Authors: Mohammad Javad Koohsari*, Akitomo Yasunaga, Koichiro Oka, Tomoki Nakaya, Yukari Nagai, Jennifer E Vena, and Gavin R. McCormack
Journal: Humanities and Social Sciences Communications
DOI: 10.1057/s41599-023-01902-9

Funding information
Mohammad Javad Koohsari is supported by the JSPS KAKENHI (grant 23K09701)
Koichiro Oka is supported by the JSPS Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research program (grant 20H04113)
Tomoki Nakaya was supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research program (grant 20H00040)
Gavin R. McCormack is supported by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Foundations Scheme Grant (FDN-154331)

July 25, 2023