6 Positive and Negative Health Impacts of City Living

We get it. Cities are cool. It’s where all the opportunities are, and it’s hard to beat the nightlife compared to living in the country. There’s always something to see and do in a city—with their museums, galleries, shops, cafes, restaurants, and… well, you get the picture.

However, while those who live in rural settings may sometimes be at a loss for immediate entertainment, they may have the edge when it comes to health benefits related to where they’re situated. Here are six ways that living in a densely populated area may be affecting you…


1. Lowered Stress Tolerance in Cities

Living in a busy city may be stressful by nature, and according to GlobalCitizen.org, “the brains of people living in rural areas differ drastically when compared to those living in urban environments.” Namely, two regions in the brain (amygdalae and the perigenual anterior cingulate cortex), light up more in city dwellers when they experience stress, adds the source.

This is perhaps from repetitive stress associated with city living and a heightened fight-or-flight mechanism, adds the source. It’s no surprise that those who live in the city have more chance of developing anxiety disorders (21-percent higher) and mood disorders (39-percent higher), it explains.

2. Death from Injury Increases in Countryside

This one seems counterintuitive, as we are generally trained to believe that more people usually equals more chance of bad things happening. However, a Time magazine article from 2013 that explains that while homicide is more common in cities, dying of a bad accident is actually more common in rural areas.

The article cites a study published in Annals of Emergency Medicine that explains the rate of “injury death”—comprised of violent crime and accidents—is significantly higher in the country. The study looked at almost 1.3-million deaths from injury between 1999 and 2006, and found “the rate of dying from an unintentional injury is over 15 times higher than that of homicide for the population as a whole.”

3. City Living May Age You Faster

Oprah.com explains how the “reproductive clocks” of birds move faster in cities than in the bush, and the reason behind this may be light pollution from buildings. “Light that was just one-thirtieth the intensity of a streetlamp made songbirds breed earlier and grow bigger gonads,” according to a study cited by the website.

Light pollution can throw off sleep patterns, which lowers production of the sleep hormone melatonin, which is also an antioxidant. When there are reduced melatonin levels in the body, “free-radicals likely increase, which age us faster,” adds the source. Perhaps buy better blinds, and shut off those screens before bed.

4. Obesity Rates Higher in the Country

This one is also counterintuitive, what with all the fast food restaurants lining the streets in cities. However, according to Rural Health Information Hub, self-reported cases of obesity were higher in rural areas based on 2010/2011 data.

Looking at obesity rates for adults (18 and older), the “rural, non-core” obesity rate during the data collection period was 36.9-percent, compared to 34.9-percent in the city. Women were more prone to obesity in rural areas, and in the nation as a whole. “The study also found that rural participants ate a diet higher in fat,” adds the source.

5. Allergies More Prominent in Cities

While you may think all those open fields with all those weeds in the country may trigger more allergic reactions, that’s not the case. The website io9 says people (especially children) are more prone to developing asthma, allergies and dry eye in cities.

One theory behind this, offers the source, is that children in lower-income urban settings are “exposed to more toxins and stress at an early age, or suffer from more untreated respiratory illnesses.” Another study apparently found that asthma cases were about equal in the country and in the city, but are treated more aggressively in urban settings, it adds.

6. Suicide Rates Lower in Cities

Again, this doesn’t seem to make sense, we already know that cities are inherently more stressful and can increase mental disorders, but according to at least one source, that’s not the case. An article from Science News magazine explains that increased social connectivity of cities may lower people taking their own life.

The article is based on findings in the U.S. and Brazil, which shows the rate of suicide drops as populations grow. While you can perhaps form better bonds with neighbours when you’re living in rural settings, the article explains that while city connections can be “superficial,” the extra interaction from co-workers and even the person you buy coffee from could sway your mind away from suicidal thoughts.


Jeff Hayward

Jeff Hayward

Jeff has more than 15 years of experience writing professionally about health, travel and the arts among other subjects. He continuously looks to improve his own overall health through exercise, diet and mindfulness. He is also a proud stay-at-home dad that loves taking photographs both professionally and as a hobby.