The research, which offers a more precise and longer-term view than previously available of the lasting influence a neighbourhood can have on unhealthy weight gain, shows the risk of obesity is strongest for teens.
“Growing up in a disadvantaged neighbourhood sticks with you, and can have a negative impact on one’s health through increasing one’s chance of obesity in adulthood,” said lead author Steven Alvarado, professor of sociology.
Among respondents followed in the data across different age ranges, that chance is 13% greater among children up to age 10 who live in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, and 29% higher for kids aged 11 to 18. Overall, the odds rose 31%.
Alvarado defined ‘disadvantaged’ neighbourhoods based on seven variables, including median income and home values and the percentage of residents who were living in poverty, unemployed or had earned bachelor’s degrees.
But measuring a neighbourhood’s association with adult outcomes including obesity is complex. Researchers must consider ‘unobserved’ factors not included in their data that might explain any association between childhood neighbourhoods and obesity in adulthood.
Genes, for example, or high parental stress level associated with household instability might be more responsible for children’s later weight gain.
The study accounted for these factors by comparing siblings. The siblings largely shared the same genes and parenting habits but may have experienced different neighbourhood circumstances growing up, because their families moved or their neighbourhoods changed over time between sibling births.
Alvarado’s study is the first to adjust for criteria such as grandparents’ experiences in segregated schools and neighbourhoods, while exploring the link between growing up in tough neighbourhoods and adult obesity.
“We must continue to consider the context in which individuals are making decisions, the neighbourhood resources that could serve as catalysts or suppressors for any genetic predispositions toward obesity in adulthood,” he said.
The study, “The indelible weight of place: Childhood neighbourhood disadvantage, timing of exposure, and obesity across adulthood,” was published in Health & Place.
Source: Medical Xpress