Nav: Home

Premature mortality is partly predicted by city neighborhood

August 15, 2019

We know that our environment affects our health. More specifically, it's understood that exposure to pollution and access to medical care play important supporting roles in maintaining health and wellness. A new in-depth study from Ryerson University assesses the link between premature mortality and a combination of environmental, health, socioeconomic and demographic characteristics within Toronto's 140 neighbourhoods and reaches some noteworthy conclusions, both anticipated and surprising.

First, the anticipated: authors Luckrezia Awuor, an Environmental Applied Science and Management graduate student, and Stephanie Melles, Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biology in the Faculty of Science, determined that premature mortality in City of Toronto neighbourhoods was predicted by a combination of unhealthy environments and embedded socioeconomic imbalances.

"It's an ongoing concern that neighbourhoods with fewer trees, lower uptake rates in cancer screening programs, higher levels of pollution and lower total income levels best predict increased mortality rates," says Melles. "It's also the case that visible minorities and Indigenous peoples are most at risk of living in neighbourhoods with higher premature mortality rates. Though we expected these results, they emphasize a persistent issue of social injustice."

Put another way, residents of wealthy neighbourhoods have lower rates of premature mortality owing in part to greater tree cover and higher rates of cancer screening. Neighbourhoods with reduced cancer screening rates, more pollution and fewer trees - also often situated close to industrial areas - tend to be lower income. In addition, walkable neighbourhoods in closer proximity to industrial pollution had higher rates of premature mortality despite higher access to health providers.

Interestingly, higher levels of traffic-related ultrafine particulates and industrial carcinogens and non-carcinogens did not always correlate to higher rates of premature mortality. This is where the surprises came in. Larger suburbs with higher pollution levels than downtown neighbourhoods showed a decreased rate of premature mortality by about 17 deaths per 100,000. This decrease is equivalent to smoking 125 fewer cigarettes per year.

"This contradicts other published findings," says Melles. "Generally speaking, greater pollution correlates with greater premature mortality. In this case, the suburban neighbourhoods also had less walkability, which may minimize the health impact. It's also possible that the differences between where a person lives and where they work play a role in their overall exposure to pollutants. We have other hypotheses that were beyond the scope of our study. But we were surprised."

Also surprising: some Toronto neighbourhoods with major highways connecting the city and those along the shoreline with good tree cover, extensive green spaces and no greater measured pollution than other downtown areas showed above average rates of premature mortality. The area that contains the Rouge National Park was one of them.

"We have some unexplained variations in the outcomes," says Awuor. "This tells us that we are missing a variable we haven't yet identified. Why do shoreline neighbourhoods fare worse than others? Is there some additional exposure to undetermined air or water pollutants that cross Lake Ontario? The higher rates of premature mortality are correct, but the explanations aren't there."

The authors point to one reason they can't yet pinpoint precise explanations for what they call "residual neighbourhood patterns," which are those below or above expected rates of premature mortality: an insufficient number of air quality monitoring stations. With only four stations in the city, it's not possible to fully understand where and when citizens are being exposed to carcinogens and ultrafine particulates.

"We need to collect more air quality data to create a more accurate picture of exposure," says Awuor. "We also need more extensive environmental policies for better tree cover and greener spaces. And we need new approaches to promoting cancer screening programs in lower income neighbourhoods. These three advances would improve the lifespan of all Toronto residents and, in particular, visible minorities and Indigenous people, who tend to live in the least green and most polluted neighbourhoods."

Ryerson University - Faculty of Science

Related Science Articles:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.
Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.
Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.
Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.
Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.
World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.
PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.
Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.
Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.
Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.
More Science News and Science Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Our Relationship With Water
We need water to live. But with rising seas and so many lacking clean water – water is in crisis and so are we. This hour, TED speakers explore ideas around restoring our relationship with water. Guests on the show include legal scholar Kelsey Leonard, artist LaToya Ruby Frazier, and community organizer Colette Pichon Battle.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#569 Facing Fear
What do you fear? I mean really fear? Well, ok, maybe right now that's tough. We're living in a new age and definition of fear. But what do we do about it? Eva Holland has faced her fears, including trauma and phobia. She lived to tell the tale and write a book: "Nerve: Adventures in the Science of Fear".
Now Playing: Radiolab

First things first: our very own Latif Nasser has an exciting new show on Netflix. He talks to Jad about the hidden forces of the world that connect us all. Then, with an eye on the upcoming election, we take a look back: at two pieces from More Perfect Season 3 about Constitutional amendments that determine who gets to vote. Former Radiolab producer Julia Longoria takes us to Washington, D.C. The capital is at the heart of our democracy, but it's not a state, and it wasn't until the 23rd Amendment that its people got the right to vote for president. But that still left DC without full representation in Congress; D.C. sends a "non-voting delegate" to the House. Julia profiles that delegate, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, and her unique approach to fighting for power in a virtually powerless role. Second, Radiolab producer Sarah Qari looks at a current fight to lower the US voting age to 16 that harkens back to the fight for the 26th Amendment in the 1960s. Eighteen-year-olds at the time argued that if they were old enough to be drafted to fight in the War, they were old enough to have a voice in our democracy. But what about today, when even younger Americans are finding themselves at the center of national political debates? Does it mean we should lower the voting age even further? This episode was reported and produced by Julia Longoria and Sarah Qari. Check out Latif Nasser's new Netflix show Connected here. Support Radiolab today at