Combining data from over 30 sources to generate more than 100 maps of the City of Toronto, the CRICH/ICES Toronto Diabetes Atlas identified significant neighbourhood disparities in diabetes prevalence.
Areas with high rates of diabetes tended to be found outside of Toronto’s downtown core, in suburban areas, where there is reduced access to healthy resources such as fruit and vegetable stores and where “activity friendliness” is lower (e.g. fewer amenities within walking distance, poorer access to public transit, greater car dependency).
The study provides a sound basis for key health recommendations such as introducing bike lanes, additional bus routes, and new zoning laws to encourage access to healthy food choices and activities.
Neighbourhoods with the highest rates of diabetes tended to be outside the downtown area. The general characteristics of high-diabetes, “high-risk” neighbourhoods were:
- Lower average household incomes and higher concentrations of visible minority residents and immigrants
- Lower levels of walking and cycling
- Poor access or longer distances to get to healthy resources such as stores selling fresh fruits and vegetables, and diabetes education programs
- Fewer parks and recreation centres
People living in “activity-friendly” neighbourhoods reported walking and bicycling more often and were less dependent on cars for travel. “Activity-friendly” neighbourhoods also had lower diabetes rates.
Some “high risk” areas of the city with lower income levels and higher proportions of visible minority residents had lower than expected rates of diabetes. In these neighbourhoods, higher activity friendliness and better access to healthy resources may protect residents from developing diabetes.
Higher income neighbourhoods had low rates of diabetes, even in parts of Toronto that scored low on activity-friendliness or had poor access to healthy resources. A higher income may give people more options for exercise and healthy eating and make them less dependent on their immediate environment (e.g. athletic club memberships and the ability to drive to supermarkets).