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Can Your Neighborhood Affect Your Blood Pressure?

Where you live affects your physical health in myriad ways, from exposure to pollution and access to green spaces to levels of crime in your neighborhood. Researchers revealed in the American Journal of Hypertension that living in a high-crime area is associated with increased blood pressure.1

The findings were revealed when researchers from the University of Chicago analyzed blood pressure measurements from 17,783 adults during a surge in violent crimes that occurred in Chicago from 2014 to 2016.

“Our study demonstrates for the first time that rising violent crime rates are associated with an increase in patients’ blood pressure and healthcare system usage over time,” Dr. Corey Tabit, the study’s senior author, said in a news release.2

Each 20-Incident Rise in Crime Raises Blood Pressure Risk

The study was particularly interested in examining the association between rising rates of violent crime and high blood pressure. When the study began, the violent crime rate was 41.3 incidents per 1,000 residents per year. Three years later, crime had risen by up to 59.1 incidents a year per 1,000 people in some parts of the city, while in others it fell by as much as 31.1 per 1,000.3

The study found that for each 20-incident increase per 1,000 residents, the risk of high blood pressure rose by 3%. Each 20-incident increase also boosted the risk of being admitted to the hospital due to heart problems by 6%.4 There were differences in crime’s effect on blood pressure depending on the neighborhood’s crime rates as well.

In areas with the most violent crimes, each 20-unit increase in violent crime rate led to an 8% reduced risk of high blood pressure. But in areas with fewer violent crimes, each 20-unit increase was linked to a 5% higher risk of high blood pressure. As for why this occurred, Tabit told Reuters:5

“Interestingly, a larger increase in blood pressure was observed in people living in lower-crime areas than in people living in higher-crime areas … This finding may suggest that people with chronically high exposure to crime may become accustomed to the conditions in their neighborhood which may insulate them from the negative effects of further increases in crime.”

Violent Crime Linked to Heart Risks, Obesity

Past research has also found that in a densely populated, high-poverty region in Chicago, recurrent exposure to high rates of violent crime was associated with obesity and elevated blood pressure. “Compared with patients living in the lowest quartile, patients living in the highest quartile for violent crime had 53% higher adjusted odds of obesity … and 25% higher adjusted odds of elevated BP,” the researchers noted.6

Areas with high rates of violent crime also have higher rates of death from childhood asthma,7 and a consistent relationship has been found between exposure to violence in childhood and cardiovascular outcomes in adulthood, including high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and heart attacks.8 According to a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine:

“The effects of violence may differ by life course stage. Healthy development of the brain and other organ systems can be derailed under chronic exposure to stress, making children particularly vulnerable to the effects of violence exposure.

These developmental effects can have long-term consequences on the development of chronic disease including CVD [cardiovascular disease]. Violence exposure in childhood has been associated with the development of cardiovascular risk factors in childhood, which persist into adulthood.

… Violence exposure in childhood and adulthood may also affect cardiovascular health through indirect pathways. Long-term effects of violence exposure have been noted in relation to depression, aggression, substance use, and risk-taking behaviors.

Many, though not all, children and adults exposed to violence develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. Both PTSD and depression have been linked to obesity, hypertension, and adverse cardiac outcomes.”

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