Health and place: A review of neighbourhood studies of geographical inequalities in health

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Abstract

The aim of this review is to summarize the recent interdisciplinary interest in the relationship between health and place related to issues of geographical inequalities in health since the 1990s, mostly in the context of Anglophone literature, in order to identify meaningful research challenges applied to the context of Japan. There are several background factors which have directed this trend, including: (1) advanced GIS and spatial epidemiology techniques; (2) the emergence of the 'new' geography of health; and (3) the exploring of possibilities of environmental health interventions based on the philosophy of the 'new public health.' Referencing keywords of papers published in the influential journal in this field, Health & Place, we found that there is a clear accumulation of studies of "neighbourhoods" in contemporary settings of developed countries. Such studies broadly argue (1) that socially deprived people are likely to live in deprived/harmful areas, and (2) the kind of general environmental changes that can alter the ideal concept of 'healthy places' in the society. We also contextualized the neighbourhood research interest into categories of compositional effects by selective migration and housing, possible 'upstream causes' of social inequality related to relative income and the neo-materialist hypothesis, and historical transitions of 'healthy towns' in the relationship between public health and city planning concepts. Although the underlying context of the society and lifestyles in the reviewed Anglophone studies are often largely different from those of Japan, there is a large potential for conducting studies of geographical inequality in health in various research fields of geography and related disciplines in order to identify Japanese contextual effects and to propose effective environmental intervention schemes in the society. Particularly when we consider the fact that Japan is still one of the healthiest and most egalitarian nations in the world, conditions may be associated with geographical aspects of the society, such as less segregated social area formation. However, recent apprehension about rising social inequality and related social/geographical inequality problems has provoked us to learn lessons from other countries' experiences of (un) healthy neighbourhoods structured by globalization, social policy, and urban design.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58-75
Number of pages18
JournalJapanese Journal of Human Geography
Volume63
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • City planning
  • Geographical inequality in health
  • Medical geography
  • Neighbourhood
  • Public health
  • Social epidemiology
  • The geography of health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development

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