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Jun 17, 2014 03:07 PM EDT

'Walkable' Neighborhoods May Reduce Rate Of Obesity, Diabetes

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"Walkable" neighborhoods reduce the rate of obesity and diabetes, according to a recent study.

Canadian researchers found that people who live in neighborhoods that are conducive to walking experienced a substantially lower rate of obesity, overweight and diabetes than those who lived in more auto-dependent neighborhoods. Walkable neighborhoods had on average a 13 percent lower development of diabetes incidence over 10 years than those that were less walkable.

"How we build our cities matters in terms of our overall health," Gillian Booth, lead researcher of the study, said in a statement. "This is one piece of a puzzle that we can potentially do something about. As a society, we have engineered physical activity out of our lives. Every opportunity to walk, to get outside, to go to the corner store or walk our children to school can have a big impact on our risk for diabetes and becoming overweight."

For the study, researchers compared adults living in the most and least walkable metropolitan areas in southern Ontario. They found that people who lived in neighborhoods with less sprawl, more interconnectivity among streets, and more local stores and services within walking distance had a lower risk of developing diabetes over a 10-year period.

A second study that compared neighborhoods, not individuals, found that the most walkable neighborhoods had the lowest incidence of obesity, overweight and diabetes.

The two studies revealed the degree to which "your environment can influence your decisions about physical activity. When you live in a neighborhood designed to encourage people to be more active, you are in fact more likely to be more active," Marisa Creatore, Epidemiologist with the Centre for Research on Inner City Health at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, said in a statement.

However,  walkability was only protective in those who were younger and middle aged; those who were age 65 or older saw no benefit from living in a walkable neighborhood.

The findings were recently presented at the American Diabetes Association's 74th Scientific Sessions.

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