Minority Seniors in Ethnically Dense Neighborhoods Have Less Heart Disease and Cancer

February 12, 2013

Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health reports that African-American and Mexican-American seniors living in communities where many of their neighbors share their ethnic background had lower rates of heart disease and cancer than those in more mixed communities.

Results of the study by Kimberly Alvarez, a Mailman PhD student, and Becca Levy, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology and psychology at the Yale School of Public Health, were published in the December 2012 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Counter to prevailing notions, researchers found that “living in the barrio or ethnically dense communities isn’t always bad for your health,” says Alvarez. “For older minority adults, it’s actually the reverse: living in an ethnically dense neighborhood is beneficial when it comes to heart disease and cancer,” adding that these are the two most common chronic conditions and causes of death among minority older adults.

Cultural factors could help to explain the phenomenon. “Communities with high ethnic density may be more likely to share values such as respect for elders and have close-knit family structures,” said Dr. Levy. These social networks, said Alvarez, may facilitate better health behaviors and, in turn, better health outcomes.

Read more from The Mailman School of Public Health.


Becca Levy, Heart Disease, United States, Yale School of Public Health