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Tackling violent crime also reduces deaths from cardiovascular disease

The University of Pennsylvania team described the findings as "notable."

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Blurred motion shot of ambulance, Chicago, Illinois, United States
(Altrendo Images/Shutterstock)

By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Tackling violent crime carries a health benefit as it slashes deaths from cardiovascular disease, according to new research.

Keeping city residents safer where they live, work, and play can combat the world's biggest killer, say scientists.

A 16 percent reduction in murders, assaults and robberies in Chicago coincided with a 13 percent fall in mortality rates from heart disease.

Sharper declines in heart disease-related deaths occurred in neighbourhoods with bigger drops in violent crime.

What is more, they fell less where offences dropped less. The University of Pennsylvania team described this as "notable."

Lead author Dr. Lauren Eberly said: "It is important to acknowledge the impact of the built environment on health.

"Exposure to violent crime appears to be an important social determinant of cardiovascular health within the broader context of the ways in which structural racism harms health."

It demonstrates the deep impact violence can have not just on the individuals involved, but also in the community at large, she said.

Sunset above Chicago Downtown, United States. Aerial view
Chicago skyline. (Structured Vision/Shutterstock)

The study in the Journal of the American Heart Association covers 15 years of data between 2000 and 2014.

Chicago was once dubbed the 'murder capital' of the US by the FBI. It has been branded a 'gangster city' since the days of Al Capone.

Many of the predominantly African American areas on the South Side are noted for high levels of street gang activity.

Neighborhoods with the greatest decrease in violent crime averaged a 59 percent drop, which correlated with a nearly 15 percent total drop in heart disease mortality.

Even in the areas with the lowest change in violent crime of 10 percent, cardiovascular mortality still declined by more than 11 percent.

Dr. Eberly said: "Because community areas that experienced the smallest decline in crime also experienced the smallest improvements in cardiovascular mortality, pre-existing disparities in mortality between neighborhoods in the city are likely to worsen over time, especially with the recent rise in crime rates in the United States.

"While these results represent one large, urban US city that could potentially not be generalizable to other cities, we suspect that these results are likely reflective of many other large urban cities across the country."

Research has shown that violent crime tends to disproportionately affect the areas where black people live.

Dr. Eberly and colleagues didn't explicitly examine racial makeup. But the findings likely have strong significance.

She said: "We hope that, given these results, people will consider the root causes of violence.

"We must acknowledge the legacy of racist policies and practices that have led to concentrated disadvantage and crime in black and other racially and ethnically minoritized neighborhoods.

"Policies must be implemented to address the health consequences of structural racism and racial segregation."

Co-author Dr. Eugenia South has performed clinical trials around neighborhood interventions aimed at improving public health - and decreasing violence.

These have included increasing green space and structural repairs to the homes of low-income owners.

Dr. Eberly said: "In light of our latest analysis, such interventions' impact on cardiovascular health warrants further attention."

Since 2014, violent crime has increased in Chicago and many other areas across the country.

Data was not being available for more recent years. But it is possible these increases also are translating to more deaths from cardiovascular disease, said Dr. Eberly.

The study also didn't divide crimes into different types. In cities like Philadelphia, gun crime has spiked since the pandemic.

Added senior author Dr. Sameed Khatana: "It is possible that different types of crime rates in a neighborhood may have different relationships with community health, which needs to be investigated further.

"Even if violent crime rates in a neighbourhood are a marker of cardiovascular health, rather than the specific cause of cardiovascular deaths, the rise in any type of violent crime is concerning as it may identify neighbourhoods where residents are especially vulnerable to worsening cardiovascular health in the years to come."

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