More Affordable Housing, Healthier Hearts?

THURSDAY, Sept. 9, 2021 (HealthDay News) — One of the keys to good health could be in the hands of those who decide zoning policies for their communities.

Inclusionary zoning policies that provide for affordable housing were associated with lower rates of heart disease for those who benefited from these dwellings, according to a new U.S. study.

“Many cities around the country are facing a severe shortage of affordable housing,” said lead study author Antwan Jones, an associate professor of sociology at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

“Our study suggests that inclusionary zoning programs can help not just boost the supply of safe, affordable housing, but may also reduce the risk of heart disease,” Jones said in a university news release.

Researchers found that places that had inclusionary zoning also had fewer residents with high blood pressure and higher cholesterol compared to communities without these programs. The residents were less likely to be taking medicine for high blood pressure. They also were less likely to have already developed coronary heart disease.

These policies were associated with better cardiovascular health even when the study controlled for other factors linked to heart disease, such as poverty, health insurance and smoking. However, the study only showed an association, not a direct cause-and-effect relationship.

The researchers used data from the 500 Cities Project, along with zoning and demographic information. They noted that more than 880 cities and counties in 25 states have adopted inclusionary zoning policies or incentive programs for developers who set aside a portion of their building projects for low- and moderate-income families. These incentives can include tax breaks and exemptions from some regulations.

Mandatory inclusionary zoning had the biggest impact on markers of heart health, the authors said in the report, published Sept. 8 in Circulation.

More than 365,000 people die from coronary heart disease annually in the United States. The authors called for more research on the links between zoning and heart health, while adding that this study suggests inclusionary zoning can address some of the complex health challenges faced by struggling families.

“Stable, affordable housing in healthy communities can reduce stress and increase access to fresh produce, parks, jobs, safe streets and other amenities that help people stay healthy,” said co-author Gregory Squires, a professor of sociology and public policy at the university.

More information

The American Heart Association has more information on heart health.

SOURCE: George Washington University, news release, Sept. 8, 2021