Neighborhood Influences on Girls Obesity Risk Across the Transition to Adolescence

A father walks his daughter and a friend to school along a city street.

For girls, living in a neighborhood with more fast food, convenience stores, litter, and graffiti increased the probability of becoming an obese adolescent.

The Issue:

While rates of childhood obesity have plateaued in the past decade, disparities in adolescent obesity related to socioeconomic status continue. Children living in low-income neighborhoods have less access to physical activity opportunities and more access to fast food and convenience stores than those living in high-income neighborhoods.

 

Researchers hypothesized that immediate neighborhood characteristics would predict obesity of adolescent girls, even after taking into account family and neighborhood socioeconomic status. They measured four neighborhood features: 1) food service and retail, including fast food, convenience stores, and supermarkets; 2) recreation in parks; 3) walkability, including traffic controls; and 4) physical disorder such as garbage, litter, and graffiti.

Key Findings

  • One standard deviation increase on the food service and retail scale was associated with 2.27-fold higher odds of being obese in adolescence.

  • One standard deviation increase on the physical disorder scale was associated with 2.41-fold higher odds of being obese in adolescence.

  • Neither walkability nor recreation features predicted adolescent girls’ obesity risk.

Conclusion:

These findings have important implications for future research, practice, and policy on childhood obesity, highlighting the need to consider neighborhood factors in youths’ most proximal residential environments.

“Future efforts to reduce childhood obesity must address not only individual-level behaviors and family-level practices, but also consider design and planning characteristics of environments that may promote or threaten healthy development,” the authors write.

About the Study:

Data were from participants in the Cohort Study of Young Girls’ Nutrition, Environment, and Transitions (CYGNET Study) in the San Francisco Bay Area at pre-adolescence (age 8 through 10) and four years later.