Western Mail Profiles: Dr Sarah Rodgers, Swansea University

‘Where you live can affect health in many ways’

Dr Sarah Rodgers is a lecturer in epidemiology at Swansea University

Can where you live affect your health? As a health geographer trained to investigate the environment and its relation to health or disease, I believe so.

This type of research dates back to 1854 when Dr John Snow was sceptical that cholera deaths in London were caused by “bad air”.

Dr Snow mapped the cholera deaths and this identified the source of the outbreak as a contaminated water pump in Soho. The local council removed the pump handle and helped to stop the outbreak.

The area we live in affects our health in many ways – it can encourage us to have healthy behaviours but it can also discourage us from making healthy choices.

My research investigates the impact of the local environment on people’s health. Often I will try to answer this type of question: “If changes are made to the environment does the health of local residents improve?”

We can try to change our behaviour so we may lead healthier lives. Walking each day to school or work or even to the local shop or bus stop, can be a good way to increase activity, decrease weight and promote general wellbeing.

But what if your local area doesn’t encourage walking? Speeding traffic on busy roads, graffiti and rubbish and few interesting places within a short distance from home, all discourage walking.

On the other hand, a local playground can encourage children to be active.

Parents are often willing to allow their children to safely walk short distances to their local park.

Time spent outdoors increases child physical activity and can help to prevent overweight and obesity. Walking to the playground, as well as activity at the playground, may help to reduce childhood obesity and future health inequalities.

Parks and playgrounds can be improved to encourage children to be active.

Policymakers and government officials often want to know the bottom line. We calculate the cost to the NHS of each person visiting their GP or hospital and prescriptions costs.

As overweight children mature into obese adults; they are likely to have a higher incidence of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, among other health problems.

Predicted savings through reduced health costs may encourage policymakers and planners to make changes to our environment to support us to be as healthy as possible in our daily lives.

Deprived areas may have fewer facilities but I have found children living in deprived areas of Swansea are twice as likely to have access to a local playground compared with children in affluent areas.

Is this the result of policy promoting healthy facilities for those most in need?

I will continue to gather evidence showing a pleasant environment with useful facilities has physical and mental health benefits for all.

To contact Sarah please email s.e.rodgers@swansea.ac.uk.This article first  appeared in the Western Mail‘s Health Wales supplement on the 12th December 2011, as part of the Welsh Crucible series of research profiles.



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