Thursday, March 11, 2010

Is your neighbourhood affecting your health?

Recently, a team led by researchers from the University of Ottawa published a study claiming that the neighbourhood you live in can seriously affect your health in ways you may never have thought of. Using data from the 2006 census and other civic sources, the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study breaks Ottawa down into 96 neighbourhoods and highlights connections between the health of citizens and factors such as the number of fast-food outlets or the number of grocery stores.

For example, 56% of adults in Central Orleans report being overweight or obese while 39% of Westboro residents report being overweight or obese. Could this have anything to do with the fact that Central Orleans has 31 fast-food outlets, or about 9 per 1000 people, while Westboro has 5 fast-food outlets, or about .53 per 1000 people. Well, the answers are probably not that clear cut. But this study, the most detailed look ever at the health of Ottawans and the neighbourhoods they live in, provides a lot of interesting facts and is a good jumping-off point for more on-the-ground studies.

One interesting point for me was seeing just how varied neighbourhoods can be, even when are located side-by-side. Take the two juxtaposed neighbourhoods of Hintonburg and Island Park, for example. In Hintonburg, 19% of the residents represent a visible minority, 33% are immigrants, the average household income is $52,825 - well below the Ottawa average $86,848, and the neighbourhood scores in the lowest quintile of the study's socioeconomic index. Next door, in the neighbourhood of Island Park on the other hand, only 6.5% of the residents represent a visible minority, 19% are immigrants, the average household income is $117,873 and the neighbourhood scores in the highest quintile of the study's socio-economic index.

For each neighbourhood, the researchers also provide a short summary of the neighbourhood's strengths and challenges. There is also a lot of historical information about each neighbourhood - did you know that Hintonburg was a town in the early 1900's before it was annexed by Ottawa?

Another feature I like is that the researchers acknowledge that they have probably gotten some things wrong, and they encourage readers to submit comments. There is also a wiki-based map that should allow anyone to add features, but it does not appear to be working properly at the time of writing.

If your interested in this study and what it says about your neighbourhood, visit the website at or read about it in the March 10 article in the Ottawa Citizen.

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