Your Neighborhood Shops Could Be Secret Heroes for Your Health

Living in a community where locally owned businesses thrive could potentially contribute to a longer life expectancy, reduced obesity, and a lower risk of diabetes. Research conducted at Louisiana State University (LSU) and Baylor found that towns and cities dominated by big-box stores and national retail chains tend to have relatively poor health statistics. The positive impacts independent businesses might have on a community’s health are not as widely recognized as the economic and social benefits they are known to provide.

The Importance of Small Business for Health and Well-being

According to Troy C. Blanchard, Ph.D., an associate professor of sociology at LSU, small local businesses contribute to the well-being and overall health of the community they serve. Blanchard and his fellow researchers analyzed data from the 2000 Census of Population and Housing, the 2007 Centers for Disease Control Obesity and Diabetes Estimates, the National Center for Health Statistics Compressed Mortality records from 1994 to 2006, the 2002 County Business Patterns, and the 2002 Nonemployer Statistics. They concluded that vibrant small business sectors offered significant non-economic rewards that could improve the health of local residents.

The Intangible Benefits of Local Businesses

Diverse local businesses create a close-knit community, providing spaces where people can interact and engage with one another. These social connections help to create a sense of belonging and foster strong relationships, which can, in turn, promote emotional and mental well-being. According to a report by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), social relationships impact various aspects of health, including mental health, health behaviors, and mortality risk.

Moreover, locally-owned businesses can contribute to a more walkable community, leading to increased exercise opportunities. In neighborhoods where stores and shops are within walking distance, people are more likely to walk or bike, leading to lower rates of obesity and diabetes. In contrast, big-box stores typically require an automobile for access, removing the chance for regular physical activity in daily life.

The Economic Benefits as Health Benefits

The economic advantages associated with locally-owned businesses also have health implications. When local businesses prosper, investments in the community tend to increase, leading to improvements in public spaces such as parks, schools, and other public services. These enhanced facilities and services directly impact the quality of life for residents. Additionally, locally-owned businesses create more jobs, which in turn contribute to economic stability — another factor that can greatly improve health outcomes.

Supporting Local Businesses

To ensure the vitality and well-being of communities, local policymakers and community leaders should prioritize supporting and nurturing small, locally-owned businesses. This can be accomplished through initiatives such as:

  1. Providing small business grants and funding opportunities to encourage new local businesses and help existing ones grow.
  2. Offering resources and assistance, such as training and mentorship programs, to help entrepreneurs succeed in their business endeavors.
  3. Implementing zoning and land-use policies to encourage walkable communities and support local businesses over large corporate chains.
  4. Engaging the community through promotional events, such as street fairs and farmers’ markets, that highlight local businesses, encouraging residents to support their neighbors.

The Ripple Effect of Locally-Owned Businesses

Locally-owned businesses can significantly impact the health and well-being of the communities they serve, above and beyond the benefits that come from job creation and economic growth. This ripple effect on health may not be immediately evident at first glance, but fostering a thriving local business sector can lead to numerous positive health outcomes and benefits for everyone in the community.

In conclusion, the importance of nurturing local businesses and supporting them as a community cannot be overstated. From promoting mental and emotional well-being through strong social connections to encouraging physical health through increased walkability, locally-owned businesses provide a variety of unique health benefits for the communities they serve. So next time you shop, consider choosing your local businesses over a big-box store, and play an active role in investing in your community’s health.