Link between your neighbourhood and your health

neighbourhood health

An old proverb says you are what you eat, but does where you live affect your health and wellbeing? Significantly, according to a study released this month by the Australian government. So if you’re planning a tree change or sea change, you may want to consider these factors.

An Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report, The relationship between health risk factors and the neighbourhood environment, looks at how location and environment affect your wellbeing.

According to the National Health Service (NHS), in 2017-18, among Australian adults:

  • 1 in 3 (31 per cent) was obese
  • 1 in 2 (55 per cent) did not meet the recommended physical activity guidelines
  • 1 in 2 (49 per cent) did not eat the recommended 2 serves of fruit per day
  • 9 in 10 (92 per cent) did not eat the recommended 5-6 serves of vegetables per day
  • 1 in 11 (9.1 per cent) consumed sugar-sweetened drinks daily.

The AIHW report seeks to identify the risk factors in neighbourhoods that affect your risk of being overweight or obese, eating a poor diet and of developing chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

It found that adults living in the lowest socioeconomic areas tend to have a higher prevalence of obesity, lower adherence to national physical activity guidelines, higher consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks, and lower consumption of fruits and vegetables, than those living in the highest socioeconomic areas.

Read: Dementia risk affected by postcode and background

Surprisingly though, it found:

  • differences in obesity by socioeconomic areas were not associated with easy access to large open spaces
  • obesity was lower in more densely populated areas
  • differences in obesity by socioeconomic areas were not associated with proximity to fast-food outlets or supermarkets.


The last of these is interesting. While the proportion of adults aged 18 and over who live within 1500 metres of a fast-food outlet or supermarket is higher in the lowest socioeconomic areas (53 per cent compared to 42 per cent in the highest socioeconomic areas), the report found that this, generally, was not associated with obesity or inadequate fruit or vegetable intake.

Read: Obesity linked to social ties

However, the report adds, “people could access a fast-food outlet near their place of work, rather than near their place of residence”.

The report found that additional factors, such as population density and commuting distance, were associated with inequalities in obesity and insufficient physical activity levels.

For example, those living in areas with an average commuting distance to work of between five and 10 kilometres had a lower prevalence of obesity (26 per cent) and insufficient physical activity (48 per cent) compared to those living in areas with an average commuting distance of 20 kilometres or more (38 per cent and 55 per cent, respectively).

Read: Top 10 most polluted postcodes in Australia

Recognising that “the design of neighbourhoods can influence our health in various ways”, the AIHW hopes that examining additional components of the neighbourhood environment, such as the quality and safety of public open spaces, may help policy-makers and health providers develop more targeted strategies to improve your health.

The full report is available for download at the AIHW website.

Do you think where you live has an effect on your health? Does having a fast-food outlet nearby affect your eating habits? Why not share your experience and thoughts in the comments section below?

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Written by Andrew Gigacz

Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.

One Comment

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  1. What you eat and/or drink and whether you exercise or not are simply personal decisions/choices.
    You can always walk around the block if there are no ‘open spaces’ close at hand.
    You can make wiser choices at the supermarket and keep away from junk food.
    Why is it someone else’s responsibility (at taxpayers’ expense) to improve your health when your own simple actions/choices can, for the most part, keep you healthy.
    Personal choices, personal actions, personal consequences, personal responsibility!
    No blame game!

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