The findings, published online in the journal Health & Place, found adults in walkable neighborhoods are more likely to interact with their neighbors. The study supports one of ''six foundational pillars suggested by United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy as part of a national strategy to address a public health crisis caused by loneliness, isolation and lack of connection in this country,'' according to the authors.
In May 2023, the Surgeon General Advisory stated that loneliness and isolation can lead to a 29% increased risk of heart disease, a 32% increased risk of stroke, a 50% increased risk of developing dementia among older adults and increased risk of premature death by more than 60%.
''Our built environments create or deny long-lasting opportunities for socialization, physical activity, contact with nature, and other experiences that affect public health,'' said professor James Sallis of the Wertheim school, senior author of the UCSD study.
''Transportation and land use policies across the U.S. have strongly prioritized car travel and suburban development, so millions of Americans live in neighborhoods where they must drive everywhere, usually alone, and have little or no chance to interact with their neighbors,'' he said.
The study analyzed data from the Neighborhood Quality of Life Study, which included 1,745 adults ages 20 to 66 living in 32 neighborhoods located in and around Seattle, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
Walkable neighborhoods promote active behaviors like walking for leisure or transportation to school, work, shopping or home, the authors wrote.
''Neighborhood walkability may promote social interactions with neighbors — like waving hello, asking for help or socializing in their homes,'' said the first author, Jacob Carson, a student in the UCSD-San Diego State University Joint Doctoral Program in Public Health.
According to the findings, neighborhoods where people must drive in and out, and where there is an absence of gathering places, may have the opposite effect, preventing neighbors from socializing.
''Promoting social interaction is an important public health goal,'' Carson said. ''Understanding the role of neighborhood design bolsters our ability to advocate for the health of our communities and the individuals who reside in them.
''Fewer traffic incidents, increases in physical activity, and better neighborhood social health outcomes are just a few of the results of designing walkable neighborhoods that can enrich our lives,'' he said.