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Cardiovascular diseases remain the leading causes of death worldwide. Metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors including hypertension and obesity, significantly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Behavioral and lifestyle modifications, including regular physical activity, have been identified as important factors in the prevention and management of metabolic syndrome.
Creating an activity-friendly environment can facilitate regular physical activity, thus reducing the risk of metabolic syndrome. Unfortunately, there is limited research directly investigating this relationship 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 Kouhsari of the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (JAIST), and an affiliated researcher at Waseda University, conducted a study to explore the relationship between the environment and metabolic syndrome in adults with dementia. The results were published in the journal Humanities and Social Science Communications.
“Targeted policy and population-level strategies have long been recognized as a tool to prevent cardiovascular disease, and studies like these play a critical role in shaping policy and practice with informative insights,” said Dr. Koohsari says. Professor Yukari Nagai from JAIST, Professor Koichiro Oka from Waseda University, Professor Tomoki Nakaya from Tohoku University, Professor Akitomo Yasunaga from Banka Gakuen University, and Associate Professor Gavin R. from the University of Calgary. McCormack et al also participated in this study.
The study used cross-sectional data from Alberta’s Tomorrow Project (ATP), a province-wide cohort dataset in Alberta, Canada. The researchers examined data from ATP participants who completed a health and lifestyle survey, took physical measurements and provided biological samples, and lived in urban areas.
A total of 6,718 participants comprising 4,455 females and 2,263 males participated. The mean age of participants was 54 years, and 34% of 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 neighborhood characteristics related to physical activity, such as housing density, number of intersections, and number of points of interest.
The results showed that neighborhoods with more “points of interest” indicating destinations such as schools, parks, and shops, and a friendly environment for active living, were associated with risk factors for metabolic syndrome. Basically, living in a neighborhood that offers more destinations, walking, and opportunities for physical activity is associated with better metabolic health.
Interestingly, the researchers found that areas with more homes had fewer health-related risk factors. This can be attributed to increased access to amenities, facilitation of social interaction and reduced reliance on cars. Such environments encourage active transportation, encouraging individuals to engage in walking or cycling, which further improves their overall metabolic well-being.
The study also noted that women had higher NDVI than men, indicating that women live in greener neighborhoods. However, no significant associations were found for NDVI or intersection density with metabolic syndrome outcomes.
The findings of the current study are consistent with previous research, indicating that activity-friendly neighborhoods, characterized by more destinations, residential density, and overall active living environment-friendliness, are associated with lower odds of developing metabolic syndrome.
“These findings highlight the importance of designing neighborhoods that encourage physical activity, as they can significantly improve overall population health,” said Dr. Kouhsari concludes.
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 to account for differences in climate, politics, health care systems and culture.
Mohammad Javad Kouhsari et al., Contributions of Neighborhood Design to Promoting Metabolic Health, Humanities and Social Science Communications (2023). DOI: 10.1057/s41599-023-01902-9
Provided by Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology