People who feel satisfied with their community are physically healthier than those who are dissatisfied or feel their city is becoming a worse place to live, a new Gallup poll finds.
The survey can't, on its own, draw a causal link between community and individual health, but other research suggests that the two are linked. Location can determine opportunities for exercise, for example, as well as what foods people eat. A recent study published in the Journal of Rural Health found that rural Americans are more likely to be obese than their city-dwelling counterparts.
Similarly, the new Gallup poll found that people who said their community offered a safe place to exercise were 16 points healthier on a physical health index score than people who said they didn't have a safe place to work out. People who felt safe walking alone at night scored 9 points higher on the same health scale compared to those who didn't.
"These findings provide support for the ecological model of health, which suggests that one's living conditions, community safety, community development and civic engagement, among other factors, affect community members' health outcomes," Gallup researchers wrote.
The organization surveyed a random sample of 353,492 American adults from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. The samples were weighted by age, gender, race and other demographic factors to match the American population as a whole. The margin of error is plus or minus 1 percentage point.
The physical health index asks respondents about sick days, diseases, other health problems, obesity and how well-rested they feel.
People who said they were satisfied with their community scored an average of 78 on Gallup's physical health index, compared with an average score of 69.1 for those who weren't satisfied. That means that people who like their home cities are less likely to report physical pain, obesity, headaches or a diagnosis of asthma or high cholesterol. [8 Reasons Our Waistlines are Expanding]
People who reported that their communities are becoming better places had the same advantages over people who felt their towns were going downhill. Feeling optimistic about your community's future also decreases your chances of ever having been diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol.
For example, 22 percent of people who reported being satisfied with their city said they'd experienced physical pain in the last 24 hours, compared with 34 percent of dissatisfied residents. Twenty percent of people who said their city was getting better reported pain, compared with 32 percent of those who said it was getting worse.
The results held even when controlling for ethnicity, education and income, Gallup reported.