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Study: Connection between ‘disadvantaged’ neighborhoods, obesity

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A new study suggests that children growing up in “disadvantaged” neighborhoods are nearly one-third more likely to face obesity as adults.

Cornell University sociology professor Steven Alvarado authored the study, “The Indelible Weight of Place: Childhood Neighborhood Disadvantage, Timing of Exposure, and Obesity Across Adulthood.” It’s published in the July issue of the online journal “Health and Place.”

Alvarado said disadvantaged neighborhoods include a number of variables, including the percentage of residents who live in poverty, who are unemployed or who earned bachelor’s degrees.

He said research indicates a neighborhood’s influence is particularly high among teens.

“It is the adolescent years that are particularly salient, that have the strongest association between exposure to neighborhood disadvantage and adulthood obesity,” he said.  “Neighborhoods have this stickiness factor, that they have this lasting quality on individuals, not only in the short term, but the long term as well.”

According to the study, the chance of experiencing obesity in adulthood is 16% greater among children up to age 10 who live in disadvantaged neighborhoods, and 29% greater for adolescents age 11 to 18.  Overall, the odds rose 31%.

Alvarado says policymakers could use this data to craft neighborhood-based interventions – such as redevelopment plans that include building more playgrounds or improving accessibility to healthier foods – and target that adolescent age group.

“Perhaps policy makers could leverage the findings of this study to think about how to design and implement policies that could reduce obesity rates over the long term by focusing on adolescents,” he said.

Click here to view the study.