Need to lose a few pounds? Consider changing neighbourhoods instead of going on a diet.

Maybe it's not that simple, however where you live can have an effect on your weight and overall health, according to a new study out of the Geneva University Hospitals (HUG) and the Ecole polytechnique federale de Lausanne (EPFL).

Research found choice of location has an effect on body mass index (BMI), which is used to classify people's weight. This effect is believed to "go beyond income levels." The study utilized data acquired over a 10-year period in the canton of Geneva.

While studies have already suggested that socioeconomic status and social networks affect obesity and general health, with BMI in particular seen as related to income and social circles, data from thousands of adults and children living in Geneva offer a "subtler interpretation."

Health indicators from over 6,600 adults, including height and weight, were taken from 2001 to 2010 as part of the Bus Sante population-based study by Idris Guessous of the Geneva University Hospitals.

Data was also collected from some 3,600 school-age children across the canton in 2011.

Evaluation of this data found adults' and children's BMI values are "not distributed randomly" on a map of the canton. Rather, the map was divided into regions with predominantly high or low BMI, and a larger region where "neither trend prevailed."

Researchers detected a region characterized by low BMI values to the south of the Rhone River, while high BMI values were "overrepresented" in areas north of the Rhone and west of the Praille district. They also found a large "neutral" belt with a mixed population between the two maps.

The study showed high BMI values did not necessarily overlap with the children's, especially in the heart of the city, found north of the Rhone River.

Researchers also found differences in income were not enough to explain findings in the adults. They cite a number of additional potential causes, such as urban planning, sports infrastructure, social networks and promotion of "softer forms" of mobility, including walking, biking, or public transportation.

Researchers from EPFL's Laboratory of Geographical Information Systems will now look to "tease out" the effect of these and other factors on BMI.

The study also highlights the necessity of detailed analysis concerning community health in regards to geography and age.

Findings will mainly benefit other communities interested in accurately analyzing the health of their residents, as well as those who oversee anti-obesity campaigns. The research will be aimed to help them to fine-tune adult and child-specific interventions to target audiences.

The study was published in the journal Nature Nutrition and Diabetes.