In a recent study, it was discovered that residing in a more walkable neighborhood can significantly reduce the risk of obesity-related cancers in women. These cancers include postmenopausal breast cancer, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, and multiple myeloma. Obesity is known to be associated with an increased risk of various forms of cancer in women, and physical activity, regardless of body size, has been shown to lower the risk of some of these cancers.
“Neighborhood walkability” in this context refers to the presence of urban design elements that encourage walking and physical activity. These elements include features like sidewalks, accessibility to amenities, and higher population density that promotes pedestrian activity. Such environments are also associated with lower body mass index (BMI).
“These results contribute to the growing evidence of how urban design affects the health and well-being of ageing populations,” stated Andrew Rundle, DrPH, professor of epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School.
“However, urban design can create a context that promotes walking, increases overall physical activity, and reduces car dependency, which could lead to subsequent improvements in preventing diseases attributed to unhealthy weight,” Rundle noted.
This study stands out for its long-term investigation into the relationship between neighborhood walkability and the incidence of obesity-related cancers, an area of research that has been relatively limited until now.
The research found that women who lived in neighborhoods with higher walkability levels, measured by factors such as destination accessibility and population density over approximately 24 years of follow-up, had a significantly reduced risk of developing obesity-related cancers. The most pronounced reduction was observed for postmenopausal breast cancer, but there were also protective associations for endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer, and multiple myeloma.
“We further observed that the association between high neighbourhood walkability and lower risk of overall obesity-related cancers was stronger for women living in neighbourhoods with higher levels of poverty,” stated Sandra India-Aldana, PhD, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and lead author. “These findings suggest that neighbourhood social and economic environments are also relevant to the risk of developing obesity-related cancers.”
Furthermore, women who resided in areas with the highest levels of neighborhood walkability (the top 25 percent) experienced a substantial 26 percent lower risk of obesity-related cancers compared to those living in neighborhoods with the lowest 25 percent of walkability.
The significance of this research lies in its potential to inform urban planning and public health strategies. Instead of costly individual-level interventions to increase physical activity and combat obesity, creating neighborhoods that naturally encourage physical activity and healthier lifestyles could prove to be an effective and sustainable approach to reducing the risk of obesity-related cancers in women.
“Our study is unique in that the long-term follow-up allowed us to study effects of walkability with potentially long latency periods of cancer and we were able to measure neighborhood walkability as the participants moved residences around the country during follow-up,” stated co-author Yu Chen Ph.D., NYU Grossman School of Medicine.
The study included a cohort of 14,274 women aged 34 to 65 who were recruited at a mammography screening center in New York City between 1985 and 1991. These women were followed for nearly three decades. Neighborhood walkability was assessed based on their residential census tract, providing robust and long-term data on the relationship between neighborhood walkability and cancer risk, particularly for postmenopausal breast cancer, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, and multiple myeloma.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as a health advice. We would ask you to consult a qualified professional or medical expert to gain additional knowledge before you choose to consume any product or perform any exercise.