Place and public health: Neighborhood characteristics tied to obesity

4281491289_e0d7cda2fb_bWhen it comes to public health, place matters. There’s even a specialty within public health that studies this called spatial epidemiology. Recent health research has tied a child’s risk of developing asthma to the neighborhood they live in, and now a study of over 8600 children aged 6 to 18 living in Kings County Washington has found seven neighborhood characteristics linked to increased risk of childhood obesity. Five of those seven factors explained 24% of a child’s likelihood of being obese:

Low levels of home ownership, income, and mothers’ education; and high rates of single-parent households, and non-white residents.

More specifically, childhood obesity increased by anywhere from 17% to 24% for each of the following measures of neighborhood social disadvantage:

* each 10% decrease in a mother’s education,

* each 10% increase in single-parent households, and

* each $10,000 reduction in household income.

Race and homeownership had smaller, but still statistically significant impacts. The research appears in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

Studies have long found a host of social factors linked to public health, and this research certainly appears to bolster those hypotheses.  Interestingly, while social factors such as income, education and marital status may serve as markers for childhood health status, perhaps childhood obesity may also serve as a marker of the degree of social health risk factors within a community.

Photo credit: The author