02/09/2012 03:39 pm ET

Small Businesses Make Communities Healthier, Study Says

Small businesses contribute to healthier communities, according to a new national study by sociologists from Louisiana State University and Baylor University.

Researchers studied 3,060 counties and parishes in the U.S., looking at population, health, business and housing data in an effort to understand the often debated effects that business environments have within communities.

In the study, they found counties with a greater proportion of small businesses -- defined as businesses with four or less employees -- showed lower rates of mortality, obesity and diabetes. "What stands out about this research is that we often think of the economic benefits and job growth that small business generates, but we don't think of the social benefits to small communities," Troy Blanchard, Ph.D., lead author and associate professor of sociology at LSU, said in a statement.

The results of the study suggest that an entrepreneurial culture promotes public health and a practical problem-solving approach within a community, as compared to communities that are surrounded by big-box stores and industrial businesses, where people may feel they have less control.

Small businesses also make greater investments in employees and the community in order to ensure staying power, according to the research. "It's in their financial interest to take a stake in the community, to make it a place where people want to live and work," co-author Carson Mencken, Ph.D., said in a statement. Small businesses are more likely to support issues for health infrastructures, recruit physicians, push for local anti-smoking legislation, support farmers' markets and promote community health programs and activities, the researchers noted.