It has long been acknowledged that people who live in "bad" neighborhoods, where they feel unsafe and don't like to spend time outside, suffer from more health problems than people who feel comfortable where they live. Although one's perception of whether a neighborhood is good or bad is essentially subjective, the effects of this perception are concrete, according to a new study. The study found that people who perceived their own neighborhoods poorly experienced greater degrees of cellular aging.
The study, published in PLOS One, included data from about 2,900 people from the Netherlands between the ages of 18 and 65. Participants were asked to rate their neighborhoods on several qualities, including noise levels, vandalism and how safe they felt walking alone. Their telomeres, the "caps" that protect the ends of chromosomes as cells divide, were also measured.
The researchers found that the worse the participants' perceptions of their neighborhoods were, the shorter their telomeres tended to be. Telomere shortening is a sign of cellular aging and can be used to measure a person's degree of age-related decline before more visible signs show up. The aging effect was found even after controlling for socioeconomic characteristics, lifestyle factors and depression.
"We have established an association between perceived neighborhood quality and cellular aging over and above a range of individual attributes. Biological aging processes may be impacted by socioeconomic milieu," the researchers wrote in their conclusion.
According to lead author Mijung Park, this study should provide motivation for policymakers to address quality of life issues in "disadvantaged neighborhoods."
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