By Ca Hoang
Today I woke up already overwhelmed by the things I had to do for the coming week. I felt horrible, and it was only 9 in the morning. After a while of staring at the items on my desk and occasionally glancing out the window, I decided to go for a walk. A change of atmosphere, I thought, would allow me to set aside my concerns for a moment and just be present. That was when I decided to dress up as I would on a pre-pandemic normal day and head out for a short walk around my apartment complex. I circled around the block twice, initially unsure if this would be helpful. My mind circled a bit thinking about my responsibilities, but as I strolled past the trees and the grass, I could not help but notice how they have grown old from the last time I saw them. I started to observe my surroundings. As I took in the fresh air, I watched a squirrel jump onto a brick wall and swiftly make its way up. There were flowers I have never seen before and clovers that I never realized were around. There were a few people walking their dogs, but I was the only individual, perhaps somewhat suspiciously, lurking around. Recognizing these little things brought about an odd sense of tranquillity, but it also made me curious about whether others were experiencing walking in a similar manner as I did?
A study (Robinette et al., 2017) found that recreational walking and environmental attributes were closely related to socioeconomic status (SES) areas, that is low SES areas often had disadvantaged attributes with regards to neighborhood aesthetics, safety, and traffic to name a few. These factors in turn affect how people living in such areas engaged in walking as a leisure activity, which is expectedly less than in higher SES areas. The findings were not particularly surprising, but it made me aware once again that more needs to be done to address the SES gap. The difference in how recreational walking is perceived and experienced is yet one of the many fronts in which varying SES levels materializes in terms of health. Another study (Sugiyama et al., 2015) examined how neighborhood SES is associated with health outcomes. Generally, the researchers found that residents of higher SES residential areas suffered from fewer health problems than those living in lower-income areas. The intersection between the area that we live in and our health outcome is evident, but not always obvious.
As a public health student, I had the chance to learn more about health disparities in the United States, and that the discussion of health disparities is never complete without the mention of our zip codes. Yet, I was not expecting to connect what I have learned in my college courses to the simple act of self-care that I chose for myself today. Although the scenery I am surrounded with is not exceptional, it is more than enough to allow me to immerse myself in a temporary departure from the worries I have bundled up. My short walk felt safe and serene. I cannot say this would have been the case if I had taken a walk beyond the gates of my apartment complex. It would take implementing changes at a policy level to be able to provide a more conducive environment for everyone to comfortably engage in activities that not only support their physical but also their mental health. Just for today, I think it is worth being aware that such disparities exist so we can all participate in conversations that discuss how we might possibly help narrow health gap disparities in society.
Robinette, J., Charles, S., & Gruenewald, T. (2017). Neighborhood Socioeconomic Status and Health: A Longitudinal Analysis. Journal of Community Health, 42(5), 865–871. https://doi-org.ezproxy.lib.usf.edu/10.1007/s10900-017-0327-6
Sugiyama, T., Howard, N., Paquet, C., Coffee, N., Taylor, A., & Daniel, M. (2015). Do Relationships Between Environmental Attributes and Recreational Walking Vary According to Area-Level Socioeconomic Status? Journal of Urban Health, 92(2), 253–264. https://doi-org.ezproxy.lib.usf.edu/10.1007/s11524-014-9932-1