An apple a day and LISC: Report shows community building benefits health

Did you know that the quality of your neighborhood can directly impact your health? According to researchers from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences, residents of Kansas City neighborhoods with support from LISC had lower blood pressure than similar neighborhoods without LISC programs.

5 Mar 2013 - Sam Dolgin-Gardner, LISC

Scarrit Kids

The connection between vacant lots in your neighborhood and your blood pressure may not seem obvious at first. But according to a new report released last month by Greater Kansas City LISC, a neighborhood's quality of life is correlated with improved physical and mental health.

Dr. Richard Suminski and Dr. Jason Wasserman examined four low-income neighborhoods in Kansas City. Two of the neighborhoods were being revitalized through the Greater Kansas City LISC NeighborhoodsNOW program. The other two had similar demographic characteristics, and were used for comparison.

The research found that residents in the NeighborhoodsNOW areas had an average blood pressure of 124/81 while residents of comparable neighborhoods had an average blood pressure of 133/82. (Stage I hypertension begins at 140/90.)

The NeighborhoodsNOW program, which follows national LISC's Building Sustainable Communities model, empowers local residents to advocate for their neighborhoods. LISC leads residents through a quality-of-life planning process, and then both drives investments in the area and works to improve local amenities including making streets cleaner, safer and more attractive places to live.

According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise, social activity and reducing stress have been shown to lower blood pressure. But unsafe streets and rusting, trash-strewn parks inhibit residents from getting outside to exercise and enjoy the company of neighbors. Researchers noted that the NeighborhoodsNOW areas were noticeably cleaner, safer and more attractive than in the neighborhoods tracked for comparison. They found that this correlated with a more than fourfold increase in "physically active individuals" using the streets and parks.

Scarritt Community

"We've always known that increasing resident engagement helps improve neighborhood conditions," said Terri Mueller, KC LISC's deputy director. "Now we have research that confirms that when you get residents involved in neighborhood activities it translates into better health."

KC LISC has also lobbied the Missouri State Legislature to bring change to these underserved communities. As a result of KC's advocacy the legislature passed a bill to create a Kansas City land bank. This will allow the city to strategically redevelop vacant and blighted properties as parks, gardens and other green spaces.

Ashley Jones-Wisner, KC LISC's director of state policy, is proud of this success, but sees the need to build on it. "The land bank is a critical tool to help Kansas City deal with vacant property and improve overall neighborhood health," she said. "To go to the next level of public health, there's a need for more education around community advocacy."

> Read the full report "Neighborhood Infrastructure, Community Dynamics, Physical Activity, and Health Outcomes" (PDF, 272 KB)

> Visit Greater Kansas City LISC's website

Article Type: LISC Article