Objectives: To investigate associations between measures of neighbourhood social and material environment and self rated health.
Design: New contextual measures added to cross sectional study of a sample of people from the Health Survey for England and the Scottish Health Survey to provide multilevel data.
Participants: 13 899 men and women aged 16 or over for whom data on self rated health were available from the Health Survey for England (years 1994–99) and the Scottish Health Survey (years 1995 and 1998).
Results: Fair to very bad self rated health was significantly associated with six neighbourhood attributes: poor physical quality residential environment, left wing political climate, low political engagement, high unemployment, lower access to private transport, and lower transport wealth. Associations were independent of sex, age, social class, and economic activity. Odds ratios were larger for non-employed residents than for employed residents. Self rated health was not significantly associated with five other neighbourhood measures: public recreation facilities, crime, health service provision, access to food shops, or access to banks and buildings societies.
Conclusions: Some, but not all, features of the neighbourhood environment are associated with self rated health and may be indicators of important causal pathways that could provide a focus for public health intervention strategies. Associations were more pronounced for non-employed residents, perhaps because of greater exposure to the local environment compared with employed people. Operationalising specific measures of the characteristics of local areas hypothesised to be important for living a healthy life provides a more focused approach than general measures of deprivation in the search for area effects.
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Funding: the research for this paper was supported under grant G990620 from the UK Medical Research Council’s Health of the Public Initiative.
Conflicts of interest: none declared.
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