Where and when violent crime rates fall, heart disease deaths fall, too

A study of data from Chicago by Perelman School of Medicine researchers revealed that, as violent crime decreases, so does the area’s death rate from heart disease.

In addition to keeping city residents safer where they live, work, and play, a new analysis of data from Chicago shows that as violent crime decreases, so does the area’s death rate from heart disease. This study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association from researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine, demonstrated the deep impact that violence can have not just on the individuals involved, but also in the community at large.

Chicago city skyline.
Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine evaluated 15 years of data gathered from the city of Chicago for their study.

“It’s important to acknowledge the impact of the built environment on health,” says the study’s lead author, Lauren Eberly, a clinical fellow in cardiovascular medicine and associate fellow of the Leonard Davis Institute. “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.”

Data from the most recent 15 years of data available out of Chicago, 2000-2014, covered an overall, significant decline in violent crime. City-wide, the decline was 16% total, and coincided with a 13% decrease in cardiovascular disease mortality.

But when the researchers examined neighborhood-level numbers, they saw that deeper declines in violent crime appeared to correlate with sharper declines in heart disease-related mortality, too. For instance, the group of neighborhoods with the greatest decrease in violent crime averaged a 59% drop, which correlated with a nearly 15% total drop in heart disease mortality. Even in the areas with the lowest change in violent crime (a 10% decrease), cardiovascular mortality still declined by more than 11%.

That the mortality rates declined less when violence crime declined less was notable.

One of the study’s co-authors, Eugenia South, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the Perelman School and director of the Penn Urban Health Lab, 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.

This story is by Frank Otto. Read more at Penn Medicine News.