CHICAGO, Oct. 8 (Xinhua) -- Exposure to violence can negatively impact a person's physical and psychosocial health, according to two studies of the University of Chicago (UChicago).
The studies were based on in-person surveys of more than 500 adults living in Chicago neighborhoods with high rates of violent crime, and in predominantly racial and ethnic minority groups.
The first study found that social isolation and loneliness were associated with limited physical activity, not taking medication properly, poor nutrition, binge drinking and smoking.
The more violence people experienced in their community, the lonelier they were likely to be, the data showed. The highest loneliness was found among people who were exposed to community violence and screened positive for post-traumatic stress disorder.
The study's results were particularly troublesome for older people who lived in violent neighborhoods, who were more prone to loneliness and might already have chronic health issues like diabetes, obesity or heart disease, said social epidemiologist Elizabeth L. Tung, whose research focused on disparities in chronic disease management.
Loneliness is a growing health concern, and a key predictor of mortality in the United States. Seventy-seven percent of the study's respondents were aged 50 and up.
Social withdrawal might be a survival strategy in violent neighborhoods, but it's not a good long-term option, added study co-author Monica E. Peek, an associate professor at the University of Chicago and the associate director of the Chicago Center of Diabetes Translation Research.
The second report quantified a connection between exposure to community and police violence and hypervigilance.
Hypervigilance, a heightened emotional state of always feeling "on guard," can prevent people from making healthy lifestyle choices. Chronic hypervigilance can lead to hypertension, cardiovascular disease, memory impairment, anxiety disorders and difficulty regulating emotions.
"It's a very well-studied phenomenon, mostly in veterans. But it's so poorly studied in community-based settings where you have this chronic exposure to violence," Tung said.
The study found a surprisingly strong association between hypervigilance and exposure to police violence more than community violence. Exposure to community violence resulted in a 5.5 percent increase in the hypervigilance score, while exposure to police violence was associated with a 9.8 percent increase. Participants who experienced a traumatic event during a police stop were associated with a 20 percent increase in hypervigilance scores.
The results were published Monday in the policy journal Health Affairs.