Background — Living in unwalkable neighborhoods has been associated with heightened risk for diabetes and hypertension. However, highly walkable environments may have higher concentrations of traffic-related air pollution, which may contribute to increased cardiovascular disease risk. We therefore aimed to assess how walkability and traffic-related air pollution jointly affect risk for hypertension and diabetes.
Methods — We used a cross-sectional, population-based sample of individuals aged 40-74 years residing in selected large urban centres in Ontario, Canada on January 1 2008, assembled from administrative databases. Walkability and traffic-related air pollution (NO2) were assessed using validated tools and linked to individuals based on neighborhood of residence. Logistic regression was used to estimate adjusted associations between exposures and diagnoses of hypertension or diabetes accounting for potential confounders.
Results — Overall, 2,496,458 individuals were included in our analyses. Low walkability was associated with higher odds of hypertension (Lowest quintile vs. highest quintile OR = 1.34, 95% CI: 1.32, 1.37) and diabetes (Lowest vs. highest quintile OR = 1.25, 95% CI: 1.22, 1.29), while NO2 exhibited similar trends (hypertension: OR = 1.09 per 10 p.p.b., 95% CI: 1.08, 1.10; diabetes: OR = 1.16, 95% CI: 1.14, 1.17). Significant interactions were identified between walkability and NO2 on risk for hypertension (p < 0.0001) and diabetes (p < 0.0001). At higher levels of pollution (40 p.p.b.), differences in the probability of hypertension (lowest vs. highest: 0.26 vs. 0.25) or diabetes (lowest vs. highest: 0.15 vs. 0.15) between highly walkable and unwalkable neighborhoods were diminished, compared to differences observed at lower levels of pollution (5 p.p.b.) (hypertension, lowest vs. highest quintile: 0.13 vs. 0.21; diabetes, lowest vs. highest quintile: 0.09 vs. 0.06).
Conclusions — Walkability and traffic-related air pollution interact to jointly predict risk for hypertension and diabetes. Although walkable neighborhoods appear to have beneficial effects, they may accentuate the harmful effects of air pollution on cardiovascular risk factors.