FRIDAY, Oct. 6, 2023 (HealthDay News) – Healthy steps: Living in a neighborhood that’s easy to walk in could be good for women’s health.

New research finds that women who live in walkable neighborhoods have lower rates of obesity-related cancers.

This was particularly true of postmenopausal breast cancer, but also of ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer and multiple myeloma, according to researchers at several universities in New York City.

“These results contribute to the growing evidence of how urban design affects the health and well-being in aging populations,” said researcher Andrew Rundle, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

Researchers noted that interventions to increase physical activity and reduce obesity one by one are costly. They also tend to have temporary effects.

“However, urban design can create a context that promotes walking, increases overall physical activity, and reduce car-dependency, which could lead to subsequent improvements in preventing diseases attributed to unhealthy weight,” Rundle said said in a Columbia news release.

Past research has linked obesity to increased risk for 13 types of cancer in women, independent of body size. Physical activity lowers the risk for some of these cancers.

The study included data from more than 14,000 women ages 35 to 65 who were recruited at a New York City mammography screening center between 1985 and 1991.

Researchers followed the women for three decades, measuring neighborhood walkability by U.S. Census-tracts. The research team assessed the association between neighborhood walkability and risk of obesity-related cancers.

By the end of 2016, about 18% of the women had a first obesity-related cancer. The most common was postmenopausal breast cancer at 53%, followed by colon cancer at 14% and endometrial cancer at 12%.

“Our study is unique in that the long-term follow-up allowed us to study effects of walkability with potential long latency periods of cancer and we were able to measure neighborhood walkability as the participants moved residences around the country during follow-up” said study co-author Yu Chen, of NYU Grossman School of Medicine.

The study found that women who had lived in the most walkable areas (top 25%) had a 26% lower risk of obesity-related cancers compared to those living in the least walkable (lowest 25%) neighborhoods.

The study, funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, was published Oct. 3 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

“We further observed that the association between high neighborhood walkability and lower risk of overall obesity-related cancers was stronger for women living in neighborhoods with higher levels of poverty” said lead study author Sandra India-Aldana, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “These findings suggest that neighborhood social and economic environments are also relevant to risk of developing obesity-related cancers.”

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on obesity and cancer.

SOURCE: Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, news release, Oct. 4, 2023