Whether or not your neighborhood is good for walking around could influence your risk for diabetes.

A new study published in Diabetes Care, defined a “less walkable” neighborhood as having fewer places within a 10-minute walk, poorly connected streets, and lower residential density. New immigrants in these types of neighborhoods were 50 percent more likely to develop diabetes in contrast to long-term residents living in walkable areas. Immigrants in low-income neighborhoods were also at a greater risk.

A previous study conducted in Ontario compared immigrants with long term residents and found diabetes to be more common in new residents. This may not only have to do with where they live but also where they immigrated from.

Dr. Gillian Booth, an endocrinologist and researcher at St. Michael’s, and lead author of the study said, “Although diabetes can be prevented through physical activity, healthy eating and weight loss, we found the environment in which one lives is also an important indicator for determining risk.”

Environment is an important factor for new immigrants to Canada, as earlier research has shown a higher risk of obesity-related issues, including diabetes, within the initial 10 years of arrival. Rates of diabetes continue to grow in Canada, but also universally. This may be due to a shift from rural to urban living, linked to fewer opportunities for physical activity, exposure to unhealthy food, and a greater risk of becoming obese and developing diabetes.

This study examined data from the population of Toronto, people ages 30 to 64, and picked out those who did not have diabetes. Researchers followed them for five years and watched to see if their risk for diabetes increased based on where they lived.

To measure “walkability” of a neighborhood researchers came up with an index using factors such as population density, availability of walkable destinations within 10 minutes, and street connectivity. The least walkable neighborhoods were generally new areas with a suburban design and a dependency on cars.

The results highlight the importance of neighborhood design and their impact on the health of urban populations.

“Previous studies have looked at how walkable neighborhoods affect health behavior, but this is the first to look at the risk of developing a disease,” concludes Dr. Booth.

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald