Patterns of Obesogenic Neighborhood Features and Adolescent Weight

In this large survey of teens in Minneapolis-St. Paul, three different statistical analyses point to convenient access to unhealthy foods and lack of safe space for outdoor recreation as neighborhood elements that lead to higher rates of adolescent obesity.

Neighborhood environments are complex and include many elements that could impact BMI. This survey of 2,682 Minneapolis-St. Paul middle and high school students uses three different statistical methods to try to tease out the obesogenic effects of neighborhood characteristics associated with food access, recreational physical activity, utilitarian physical activity, perceived safety, and neighborhood socio-demographics. Little prior research examines the relationship between neighborhood features and adolescent obesity.

Key Findings:

  • Regression analysis found that only two of 21 separate neighborhood variables considered were associated with higher BMI in boys and girls—a low percentage of parks and recreation space, and low perceived safety.
  • Factor analysis identified five factors associated with higher BMI, including away-from-home food and recreation accessibility (girls only), community disadvantage (girls only), green space, retail/transit density, and supermarket accessibility.
  • Spacial latent class analysis—a technique used to try to understand how environmental characteristics interrelate—identified six distinct clusters with “complex combinations of both positive and negative environmental influences.” In boys, the cluster associated with the most obesity included low SES, parks/recreation, and safety; high restaurant and convenience store density; but nearby access to gyms, supermarkets, and many transit stops.

This research underlines the challenges to untangling the relationships between obesity and the many potential factors in complex built environments. But all three statistical methods point to access to unhealthy foods and a lack of safe space for outdoor recreation as factors in adolescent obesity.