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Social interaction may provide health benefit

11/13/2018

Allie Arp, CSL

When it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, watching what you eat and exercise are well known and play a big role in overall health. A lesser known factor, where you live. In research conducted by CSL Assistant Professor Lav Varshney and former student
Thankful Series #1
Thankful Series #1
Hongyang Bai, living in a social neighborhood could be better for your health.

“The basic questions we were asking was about the social determinants of health and physical infrastructure,” Varshney said. “The question we looked at was, is there a relationship between the opportunity to socialize and obesity rates?”

To go about finding an answer, Varshney and Bai collected data from the social media platform Four Square across the city of New York. They analyzed neighborhoods to figure out different venues for social interaction were available; restaurants, parks, stadiums, etc. They then compared this analysis to the obesity rates of these neighborhoods.

“We found was there is a strong association between the number of venues for social interaction and obesity,” Varshney said. “The more venues the lower the obesity rates.”

These results held true even when they were controlled for wealth and income across the various neighborhoods. While these findings represent an association between venues and obesity and not a causation, it does suggest that building more places for social interaction may be beneficial to public health.

In 2015 Varshney and Bai won the NYC Media Lab – Bloomberg Data for Good Exchange Paper Award for their work in this area.
Lav Varshney
Lav Varshney

As we get into the holiday season, we at CSL are putting together a series of stories about research for which we are grateful.This is the first in the Thankful Series featuring research our scientists have conducted for social good.