Stay Informed

Geographic Health Disparities Linked to Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

November 4, 2021
Patient Engagement Hit
By Sarai Rodriguez

Researchers found that neighborhoods with more fast-food outlets were more likely to develop Type 2 Diabetes, indicating neighborhood is geographical health disparities in diabetes.

An individual’s proximity to fast-food outlets leads to a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes (T2D), emphasizing geographic health disparities within different communities, a new study conducted by researchers from NYU Langone Health suggests.

The research team used data from the U.S Veterans Health Administration to follow a cohort of 4 million veterans without diabetes for a median of five and half years and track the number of restaurants and supermarkets in their neighborhood. The study examined this relationship in four distinct neighborhoods: high density urban, low density urban, suburban, and rural.

“Our Study design is national in scope and allowed us to identify the types of communities that people are living in, characterize their food environment, and observe what happens to them over time. The size of our Cohort allows for geographic generalizability in a way that other studies do not,” researcher Rania Kanchi, MPH, said in a statement.

Throughout the study, 13 percent of all participants were diagnosed with T2D. Individuals that lived in high-density urban neighborhoods on average lived within a mile of fast-food restaurants. Fourteen percent of participants in high-density neighborhoods developed T2D, while 12 percent of participants living in suburban and rural areas developed T2D. The further away a participant lived from a fast-food restaurant, the less likely they were to be diagnosed with T2D.

“The food availability choices in your environment really matter across the country and in a variety of different environments,” said study co-author Lorna Thorpe, PhD, MPH. “The more we learn about the relationship between the food environment and chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, the more policymakers can act by improving the mix of healthy food options sold in restaurants and food outlets, or by creating better zoning laws that promote optimal food options for residents.”

Contradictorily, Thorpe and her team’s finding did not suggest that the availability of supermarkets in urban neighborhoods are associated with T2D. The placement of supermarkets may be more beneficial in suburban and rural neighborhoods with less access to public transportation. Policymakers restricting the availability of fast-food restaurants could decrease the risk of T2D within all communities, the researcher suggests.

Future research could look at the effects of the built environment on diabetes risk by examining the relationship between fast-food restaurants, supermarkets, and community types with subgroups varying by gender, race, and ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.

Read more on the Patient Engagement Hit