Residents of poor neighborhoods may die sooner than residents of wealthier neighborhoods - regardless of what they eat, how active they are, or other individual risk factors, new research suggests.

This finding - that where you live might affect how long you live - comes from a study of more than 565,000 middle aged and older Americans enrolled in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, which collected detailed data on diet, lifestyle, and medical history. Neighborhood characteristics were drawn from U.S. Census data for the year 2000.

There was an increased risk of death from any cause or cancer in socioeconomically deprived neighborhoods, Dr. Chyke Doubeni told Reuters Health. What's noteworthy, he said, is that this difference remained even after taking into account differences in dietary patterns and other person-level health risks.

Doubeni, assistant professor of family medicine and community health and assistant vice provost for diversity at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, presented his team's findings today at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research underway in Houston.

We were expecting that once we controlled for these lifestyle and medical risk factors, the differences would go away, Doubeni noted in a conference statement. We were surprised that the differences persisted after controlling for lifestyle factors such as smoking, diet, exercise and medical risks.

Among the study participants, a higher percentage of adults from the most deprived neighborhoods reported poorer overall health and diet and higher average body weight. Even when these and other risk factors were taken into account, the chances of dying still rose as the level of deprivation in the place of residence increased, Doubeni and colleagues found.

Compared to people living in the least deprived neighborhoods, those living in the most deprived neighborhoods had roughly a 22 percent higher risk of dying over the 10-year study period, regardless of diet and lifestyle.

This is a public health issue; we need to pay more attention to people who live in poor neighborhoods, Doubeni told Reuters Health.

We need to target public health interventions to these neighborhoods that are deprived by improving health resources and the physical environments in those areas, Doubeni concludes.