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Neighborhood Greenness and Chronic Health Conditions in Medicare Beneficiaries

      Introduction

      Prior studies suggest that exposure to the natural environment may impact health. The present study examines the association between objective measures of block-level greenness (vegetative presence) and chronic medical conditions, including cardiometabolic conditions, in a large population-based sample of Medicare beneficiaries in Miami-Dade County, Florida.

      Methods

      The sample included 249,405 Medicare beneficiaries aged ≥65 years whose location (ZIP+4) within Miami-Dade County, Florida, did not change, from 2010 to 2011. Data were obtained in 2013 and multilevel analyses conducted in 2014 to examine relationships between greenness, measured by mean Normalized Difference Vegetation Index from satellite imagery at the Census block level, and chronic health conditions in 2011, adjusting for neighborhood median household income, individual age, gender, race, and ethnicity.

      Results

      Higher greenness was significantly associated with better health, adjusting for covariates: An increase in mean block-level Normalized Difference Vegetation Index from 1 SD less to 1 SD more than the mean was associated with 49 fewer chronic conditions per 1,000 individuals, which is approximately similar to a reduction in age of the overall study population by 3 years. This same level of increase in mean Normalized Difference Vegetation Index was associated with a reduced risk of diabetes by 14%, hypertension by 13%, and hyperlipidemia by 10%. Planned post-hoc analyses revealed stronger and more consistently positive relationships between greenness and health in lower- than higher-income neighborhoods.

      Conclusions

      Greenness or vegetative presence may be effective in promoting health in older populations, particularly in poor neighborhoods, possibly due to increased time outdoors, physical activity, or stress mitigation.
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