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Neighborhood/Built Environment and Health Disparities

There’s a common refrain in health research: ‘Tell me your ZIP code, and I will know your health.’ The declaration is based on the spatial pattern of social determinants of health demonstrating how our exposure to disease risk factors and our access to quality care are shaped by where we live.

Some important social determinants of health are embedded in the built environment (the physical structures and spaces, like parks) of a neighborhood. The unique set of characteristics for a neighborhood influence health outcomes which may result in geographic health disparities.

Our Research Focus

The ACS Cancer Disparity Research team engages in research that examines how neighborhood conditions and features of the built environment relate to cancer disparities, including accessibility to cancer screening and care, access to healthy foods, and accessibility to areas for being physically active.

Accessibility to cancer screening and care

Although cancer screening is widely available in the United States, the geographic variations in accessibility to screening facilities leads to substantial disparities in the utilization of screening. Similar geographic variations in the location of specialty providers and devices cause disparities in accessibility to cancer treatment. The ACS Cancer Disparity Research team examines these disparities between different geographic locations and between urban and rural areas.

Access to healthy food

Limited access to healthy food is a potential contributor to several adverse health conditions, including diabetes and obesity. Our team examines how the neighborhood food environment allows for access to healthy grocery stores and to better understand their relationship to health and outcomes across the cancer continuum.

Greenspaces and walkability

Built environments, including roads, housing, parks, sidewalks, and greenspace, potentially provide a place for physical activity, which can affect overall health, risk of developing cancer, and outcomes of cancer screening and treatment. Our team is seeking to understand associations between changes in neighborhood greenspaces and walkability on residents’ health, including obesity prevalence and cancer-related outcomes.

Recent Studies