Association of Perceived Neighborhood Safety on Body Mass Index

Blacks and Latinos residing in neighborhoods with low-socioeconomic status face obstacles to reducing obesity from the physical and social environments—fewer places to walk, lack of access to fruits and vegetables, and higher density of fast food restaurants. Living in an unsafe neighborhood may influence obesity through higher rates of stress-related eating. An unsafe neighborhood could be a factor in obesity when a person feels safer with extra weight as a protection against attack. Or, possibly, large, less agile individuals feel less safe.

Using Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey data, researchers sought to determine whether there is an association between perceived neighborhood safety and body mass index (BMI), after accounting for endogeneity. They analyzed data on 2,255 adults (mean age 39.6, 57% female, 52% married, 55% Latino, 28% White, 9% Black and 8% Asian or Pacific Islander). Mean BMI was 26.6 kg/m2. The neighborhood of residence was perceived as unsafe by 32 percent.

The researchers identified a significant negative association between perceived neighborhood safety and obesity. Individuals who found their neighborhood unsafe had a BMI 2.81 kg/m2 higher than those who thought their neighborhood safe. In addition to influencing health behaviors, perceived neighborhood safety may have physiologic effects on stress hormones, blood pressure and blood glucose, all factors that affect obesity.