Background The main strategy for alleviating heart disease has been to target individuals and encourage them to change their health behaviours. Although important, emphasis on individuals has diverted focus and responsibility away from neighbourhood characteristics, which also strongly influence people's behaviours. Although a growing body of research has repeatedly demonstrated strong associations between neighbourhood characteristics and cardiovascular health, it has typically focused on negative neighbourhood characteristics. Only a few studies have examined the potential health enhancing effects of positive neighbourhood characteristics, such as perceived neighbourhood social cohesion.
Methods Using multiple logistic regression models, we tested whether higher perceived neighbourhood social cohesion was associated with lower incidence of myocardial infarction. Prospective data from the Health and Retirement Study—a nationally representative panel study of American adults over the age of 50—were used to analyse 5276 participants with no history of heart disease. Respondents were tracked for 4 years and analyses adjusted for relevant sociodemographic, behavioural, biological and psychosocial factors.
Results In a model that adjusted for age, gender, race, marital status, education and total wealth, each SD increase in perceived neighbourhood social cohesion was associated with a 22% reduced odds of myocardial infarction (OR=0.78, 95% CI 0.63 to 0.94. The association between perceived neighbourhood social cohesion and myocardial infarction remained even after adjusting for behavioural, biological and psychosocial covariates.
Conclusions Higher perceived neighbourhood social cohesion may have a protective effect against myocardial infarction.
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