Study: Living in poor neighborhood can hurt health

? Back in the 1990s, the federal government tried an unusual social experiment: It offered thousands of poor women in big-city public housing a chance to live in more affluent neighborhoods.

A decade later, the women who relocated had lower rates of diabetes and extreme obesity — differences that are being hailed as compelling evidence that where you live can determine your health.

The experiment was initially aimed at researching whether moving impoverished families to more prosperous areas could improve employment or schooling. But according to a study released Wednesday, the most interesting effect may have been on the women’s physical condition.

About 16 percent of the women who moved had diabetes, compared with about 20 percent of women who stayed in public housing. And about 14 percent of those who left the projects were extremely obese, compared with nearly 18 percent of the other women.

The small-but-significant differences offered some of the strongest support yet for the idea that where you live can significantly affect your overall health, especially if your home is in a low-income area with few safe places to exercise, limited food options and meager medical services.

“This study proves that concentrated poverty is not only bad policy, it’s bad for your health,” Shaun Donovan, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But no one believes the deficit-plagued federal government is going to expand the program and start moving low-income women to better neighborhoods en masse.

“It’s not enough to simply move families into different neighborhoods,” Donovan said. Instead, new ways must be found to help families “break the cycle of poverty that can quite literally make them sick.”