While it might not come as a surprise that people living in lower-income and less prestigious neighborhoods often suffer from obesity, low fitness levels and poor nutrition given typically higher rates of pollution, less accessibility to fresh food and decreased walkability, a new joint-study, conducted by American and French researchers, adds a new dimension to the equation. Using health and property records from Seattle, USA and Paris, France, as the basis of their research, the team sought to find a correlation between property prices and the self-rated health (SRH) status of those who live in them.

“This study brings forth a valuable comparison of SRH between cities that have contrasting urban forms, population compositions, residential segregation, food systems and transportation modes,” reads the research paper. Using existing studies on obesity, self-rated health and socioeconomic status (SES), with a sample of 1,394 people in Seattle and 7,131in Paris, the team set about geocoding their addresses and retrieving details on their property values. While the Seattle Obesity Study and Paris’ RECORD study had only used educational attainment and household income as signifiers, the researchers explain that “residential property values can complement composite scores of area deprivation, based on multiple variables, usually at the census tract level (Black et al., 1988Morris and Carstairs, 1991Singh-Manoux et al., 2006 and Pampalon et al., 2009). Residential property values are a reliable index of neighborhood assets and a reflection of individual SES (Moudon et al., 2011 and Rehm et al., 2012).”

Expectedly, higher incomes and higher educational levels were both positively associated with higher levels of self-rated health. What this study has added to the conversation, however, is that higher property prices also correlate with higher levels of SRH, independently of income and education. More interestingly yet, the paper has added to an on-going debate regarding the accuracy and utility of using administrative city units as a measure of socioeconomic status, over the more novel, individual and neighborhood-based assessment presented in this research. That is to say, the paper questions big, sweeping city-wide data sets as an efficient and useful way to assess public health in urban areas

Meanwhile, geocoding and mapping out the addresses of both the RECORD and SOS studies’ participants added another level of analysis often overlooked: while living in the inner-city area as opposed to the suburbs often meant higher income, better education levels and lower obesity in both Paris and Seattle, the research finds “Living within the city limits was not related to SRH in either of the cities,” meaning even if respondents were at a healthy weight in the inner-city, they didn’t necessarily feel healthier than their suburban counterparts.

seattle paris self-rated health

The comparison between Paris and Seattle also yielded some interesting findings. The impact of the three socioeconomic status variables on self-rated health, namely income, education level and property price, were much more evident in Seattle than Paris, even after mutual adjustment. This means that between two comparable respondents in each city, with equally low levels of income, education and property price, the Seattle subject is likelier to report worse health conditions than his or hers Parisian equivalent.

“In Seattle, residents living in the top quartile of property values were 59% less likely to report a fair/poor health status compared to residents living the bottom quartile of property values. In Paris, the corresponding reduction was only 23%. In Seattle, individuals having a college degree or higher were 59% less likely to report a poor health status compared to samples with high school or less education. In Paris, the corresponding reduction was 42%. Similarly, the effect of household income was also stronger in Seattle than in Paris,” explains the study, leaving the door open for further analysis of the sociopolitical, geographical and cultural contexts.