Study Shows How Living In "Desirable" Neighborhoods Affects Kids' Health

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Researchers have long found a correlation between poverty and health outcomes for people, especially kids. But a new study shows that simply living in a "desirable" neighborhood can affect kids' health, regardless of their family's income level. The study, published in Psychosomatic Medicine, was conducted by researchers at UC San Francisco, who examined the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in kindergartners.

They examined over 300 kids from families whose income ranged from $10,000 to over $200,000 a year, by checking their cortisol levels and also asking parents and teachers to report kids' health issues. The researchers found that the average cortisol level of 113 low income kids who also lived in poor neighborhoods was in the 75th percentile. Meanwhile, when they 32 kids from lower income families who lived in better quality neighborhoods was in the 45th percentile. Basically, it does kind of matter where you live.

According to Medical XPress, high cortisol levels are linked to health issues such as higher blood sugar, raised blood pressure, insomnia, fatigue, and other health issues. Study author Danielle Roubinov, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry, and a member of the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences, said in a statement accompanying the study, "The quality of neighborhoods was assessed by a measure that evaluates access to green spaces, exposure to environmental toxins, and availability of early childhood education centers and grocery stores selling healthy food."

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She also added that neighborhood is only one factor that can affect a child's overall health, but an important one. This new study backs up a 2011 governmental study that gave 4,500 women vouchers to move. The women were living in public housing in neighborhoods where over 40 percent of the residents were poor, and then moved to subsidized private housing in neighborhoods where fewer than 10 percent of the people were poor.

The research, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that the relocated women were at less of a risk for obesity and diabetes, as reported by CBS News. Don't get the information twisted, though. Simply giving people vouchers to move to nicer areas is not the only solution.

Instead, it's a sign that local and state governments need to support all communities when it comes to divvying up resources. It's not being around wealthy people that makes kids, or women in the case of the 2011 study, more healthy. It's having access to safe areas to play, not living in the middle of a food desert, having access to health care clinics and child care. That list could go on and on.

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Shaun Donovan, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development told CBS in a statement after the 2011 study was released, "This study proves that concentrated poverty is not only bad policy, it's bad for your health. He added that legislators need to focus on how to help "families break the cycle of poverty that can quite literally make them sick."

Roubinov agreed that two studies showed that something has to be done in a statement to Eureka Alerts:

Taken together, such results suggest that infusing a neighborhood with resources across various domains could influence the negative effects of a family's economic status. Initiatives such as supportive social services, efforts to improve neighborhood safety and housing quality, and redesigning parks and open spaces may offer physiological and physical benefits.

According to the National Center for Children in Poverty 21 percent of American kids — a whopping 15 million — live in families below the federal poverty line. And even that measurement isn't exactly reliable, according to the organization, because the government underestimates the needs of low income families that actually need twice as much income to cover the most basic expenses.

Hopefully lawmakers, and voters, will take notice eventually and work to make their communities more welcoming for kids and families no matter their income level. We're talking about keeping kids healthy, which should always be a bipartisan issue.

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