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Social vulnerability linked to unhealthy lifestyles and poor health within the US, study finds

Findings from a latest study in The American Journal of Medicine, published by Elsevier, show that increased social vulnerability worsens each unhealthy lifestyle behaviors and health characteristics. Researchers found distinct geographic variances and disparities inside america. They support the adoption of precision medicine approaches to focus on specific groups of people and communities to alleviate these disparities.

Ross Arena, PhD, of the Department of Physical Therapy on the University of Illinois Chicago’s College of Applied Science, and Founding father of the Healthy Living for Pandemic Event Protection (HL – PIVOT) Network, Chicago, said: “The findings of the present investigation indicate a crisis inside a crisis with respect to a physical inactivity pandemic within the US. On a national level, physical activity is unacceptably low and has not appreciably improved over the past decade while high levels of social vulnerability and physical inactivity are concentrated in specific geographic regions.”

Physical activity prolongs each healthspan and lifespan, often called “healthy longevity” when taken together. Even small increases in activity could make an enormous difference to an individual’s health and well-being. Nevertheless, the COVID-19 pandemic likely reduced many Americans’ activity levels as social distancing and stay-at-home orders to contain the virus resulted in people moving even less.

This study investigated the correlation between social vulnerability and physical inactivity by spatially comparing county-level data on physical inactivity prevalence and the Social Vulnerability Index (SVI). The connection between physical inactivity and social vulnerability was assessed within the context of unique regional cultures within the US in accordance with the American Nations model.

The outcomes of this in-depth statistical evaluation further support the importance of using social vulnerability metrics to discover regions/communities which are at the next risk of unhealthy lifestyle behaviors, chronic disease, and poor health outcomes. Key findings include:

  • Social vulnerability significantly influences physical inactivity prevalence within the US, especially regarding socioeconomic status and household characteristics.
  • Clear and statistically significant heterogeneity in social vulnerability is clear across distinct regions within the US using the American Nations model. Akin to the previously described “stroke belt,” there’s evidence of a “social vulnerability belt” sweeping across a big portion of the southern US region. Northern and western Alaska are also areas of concern.
  • The distribution of the SVI and physical inactivity prevalence across the US overlaps considerably, suggesting interactions between these adversarial phenomena suggest a regional cultural influence.
  • High levels of social vulnerability and physical inactivity are concentrated inside specific geographic regions that need tailored solutions to resolve health disparities.

In response to the study, there are external aspects that influence lifestyle which are heterogenous, reminiscent of cultural and geographic overlay, first settler effects, and the competing migration patterns of settler-colonizers within the 17th to 19th centuries, which laid down rival cultural traditions and political and socioeconomic preferences.

The investigators stress that traditional health messaging and individual counseling approaches to addressing the physical inactivity crisis suffer from a blanketed, all-or-none approach.

Co-investigator Nicolaas P. Pronk, Ph.D., President and Chief Science Officer of HealthPartners, Bloomington, MN, said: “Typically, we have said,Being physically lively is nice for everybody and hence all people ought to be more physically lively and exercising 150 minutes or more per week on most if not all days of the week at a moderate intensity is good.’ Little attention is paid to aspects that influence an individual’s decision to be physically lively.”

Co-investigator Colin Woodard, MA, FRGS, Director of Nationhood Lab at Salve Regina University’s Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy in Newport, RI, notes: “Historically, public and individual health professionals have not considered a few of the true drivers of physical inactivity. Our goal with this study is to begin attending to the underside of what really motivates behavior and behavior change. Data-driven intelligence and the work of historians and cultural geographers may help us find the perfect ways to encourage healthy lifestyle selections and ultimately make people healthier.”

Dr. Arena adds, “Our findings indicate social vulnerability and deep-seated characteristics of america’ distinct regions are likely influencing physical activity decisions. These aspects ought to be considered when designing physical activity health promotion campaigns and tailoring individual counseling. We’d like to work out methods to help specific communities and individuals make behavior changes. What tools do they need? What messaging will resonate with them? It’s time to use a precision medicine approach to healthy living medicine.”


Journal reference:

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