Smoking, obesity varies depending on neighbourhood: study

Troy Shantz

Where you live in Sarnia may have something to say about your risk for chronic diseases.

That’s the implication of a new study that looked at the incidence of smoking and obesity at a neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood level in the Erie-St. Clair region.

In many of the “micro regions” of Sarnia, Bright’s Grove and Corunna, for example, 20% to 30% of residents identify themselves as smokers, according to the Canadian Community Health Survey data.

It was already known Sarnia-Lambton has a higher percentage of smokers than the provincial average of 12.6%.

But the data found that in some the city’s south-end neighbourhoods more than 35% of men say they are smokers.

“We kind of knew the prevalence of risk factors might be higher in areas that are more socioeconomically deprived,” said Dr. Sudit Ranade, Lambton’s Medical Officer of Health.

“What it helps us do is consider when we’re approaching programs like smoking cessation, where we should be geographically focused. Where do we think we need to be investing some resources to make a difference?”

The study done by Lambton Public Health and Cancer Care Ontario was among the first in Canada to look at risk factors for people in neighbourhoods as small as 400 to 700 residents.

The resulting maps show there are differences in people’s behaviours within areas of the city and county.

Overall, the study found fewer percentages of people with excess body weight in Sarnia-Lambton than in neighbouring Chatham-Kent and Essex county to the south.

One notable exception in Sarnia is an area bounded by Confederation Street, Telfer Road, Michigan Avenue and Modeland Road, where more than 60% of the population is carrying excess body weight.

But the obesity data and its negative impacts on health is less clear than it is for smoking, because extra pounds don’t account for activity levels, nutrition and genetic makeup, Dr. Ranade said.

“We need to start looking more closely at things like food access. Where are there food deserts in the county? Where are there reasonable places for people to have physical activity?”

The individual neighbourhood information can, however, help Lambton Public Health target its health promotion programs in schools and workplaces more effectively.

“It doesn’t tell us exactly how to do that, but it helps us to decide where to do it,” he said.

More than 1.4 million Ontarians smoke, resulting in an estimated 13,000 tobacco-related premature deaths each year through cancer, heart and respiratory diseases.