March 23, 2005

Urban Living Increases Schizophrenia Risk

The risk of developing schizophrenia is up to three times higher in urban cities vs. rural areas says Ezra Susser, head of the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

While the city itself may not be a cause for concern, many known risk factors for schizophrenia are more often found in urban environments. For example, the risks of prenatal infections are increased in dense urban areas. Cities tend to be dirty, increasing the risk of prenatal exposure to lead and other pollutants. Residents of cities are also more likely to have decreased exposure to sunlight, reducing their body levels of vitamin D. A curious trend showing that more babies with schizophrenia are born in the dark months of winter could be explained through a lack of sun exposure.

Jim van Os of the department of psychiatry at Maastricht University in the Netherlands points to the social fragmentation of urban living as another possible reason for an increased risk for schizophrenia. He cites as an example that boys who move around a lot as teens have a higher rate of schizophrenia as adults. The importance of strong social support systems to good mental health has been the subject of numerous research studies.

Urban dwellers do not have to move to the country just yet; knowing the risk factors that come with city living empowers you to make good and healthy choices in your own life, whether you live in the city or in the country.

For more information on the causes and prevention of schizophrenia, see

Source: "Schizophrenia finds fertile soil in cities", March 22 2005. Available in the Living section of The Arizona Republic (


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