Where you live may raise your odds of developing this chronic health problem

Shutterstock

The neighborhoods we live in dictate a whole lot about our lives. The stores we patronize or the schools our children attend, just to name a few examples.

Now, a new study from Drexel University concludes that one’s neighborhood may also put them at a considerably higher risk of developing chronic kidney disease.

In more exact terms, the research team says people living in low socioeconomic neighborhoods (low average income, low average education level) may be more susceptible to chronic kidney disease, high blood pressure, and poor blood sugar control.

Besides just your neighbor’s finances, a neighborhood’s walkability, availability of healthy food options, and rate of violent crime all appear to influence residents’ odds of developing chronic kidney disease as well.

“Our finding, that people who are living in neighborhoods with the fewest resources are at highest risk for kidney disease, should be a call to health providers to integrate knowledge about their patients’ environments in their care processes, and to policymakers to allocate resources to at-risk communities that will promote health,” explains senior study author Meera Harhay, MD, an associate professor of Medicine at Drexel’s College of Medicine and Dornsife School of Public Health, in a release. “Our results also show that neighborhood environments that promote physical activity are protective when it comes to blood pressure and blood sugar management, whereas less walkable neighborhoods might exacerbate conditions that are risk factors for kidney disease.”

Travel anywhere in the United States, or any number of other developed nations for that matter, and you’ll see rich, affluent neighborhoods lined with pretty sidewalks, security gates, and niche health food stores. Travel down the road far enough, though, and you’ll come across much poorer neighborhoods surrounded by unkempt buildings, liquor stores, and little to no public spaces (parks, playgrounds).

It’s plain to see which of those two neighborhood varieties are more comfortable or desirable to live in, but this study’s finding that poorer communities also foster adverse disease outcomes adds an entirely new level of depth to that comparison. It’s one thing to live in a nicer area thanks to a high-paying job, but no one’s social status or level of income should put them at a greater risk of developing an ailment as serious as chronic kidney disease. 

With this in mind, the study’s authors say their work should motivate governments and policymakers to devote more money and resources to health-focused initiatives in poorer neighborhoods. Similarly, doctors should better educate their patients on how neighborhood-factors can influence disease occurrence. 

Point blank, the number of zeros on your monthly paycheck may determine the size of your home or which neighborhood you live in, but it shouldn’t dictate your health. If poorer neighborhoods are as detrimental to one’s health as this research suggests, that’s a major public health issue.

“This study offers tools to help identify communities at higher risk of kidney disease at earlier stages so their condition can be managed to prevent end-stage kidney disease from developing,” Harhay says. “Health providers should consider incorporating knowledge about neighborhood-level social determinants of health when they are assessing their patients.”

A total of 23,692 adults living in Philadelphia were included in this research. Each one of those individuals had been seen by a primary care practice in either 2016 or 2017. The researchers’ analysis revealed that Philadelphians living in low socioeconomic status neighborhoods of the city were more likely to develop kidney disease than others living in more affluent areas. 

Additionally, poor walkability within a given neighborhood was linked to increased odds of poor blood sugar control among chronic kidney disease patients and a higher risk of poor blood pressure control among people without chronic kidney disease.

It’s important to note that other potentially influential demographic factors (age, sex, race, and insurance type) were accounted for during the analysis.

For reference, chronic kidney disease essentially means one’s kidneys aren’t functioning properly and are thus unable to fully filter blood. This condition develops unnoticed over a long period, which is why it’s called “chronic.” Left unchecked long enough, however, and it can lead to full-on life-threatening kidney failure and dialysis.

The full study can be found here, published in SSM – Population Health.