A cross-sectional study found that disadvantaged and disordered neighborhood environments were associated with excess adiposity in adolescence.
Adolescents living in disadvantaged neighborhoods are exposed to chronic stressors such as crime, violence, overcrowding, and food insecurity, which undermine their psychological and physical health. Stress exposure promotes unhealthy eating behaviors. Moreover, chronic stress can lead to the development of obesity and cardiometabolic disease.
A study in BMC Public Health investigated the relationship between neighborhood social environment and a comprehensive set of adiposity and cardiometabolic disease risk parameters.
In the sample, 162 census block groups were represented, with an average of 1.8 adolescents per block group. The mean age was 12.6 years. Thirty-two percent of the participants were African American, and 38% reported an annual household income < $70,000. The mean levels of neighborhood concentrated disadvantage and perceived neighborhood disorder were –0.06 and 0.19, respectively. One-third of participants had obesity, and 16.4% had severe obesity.
Perceived Neighborhood Disorder and Its Effects on Adolescent Health
Adolescents living in neighborhoods with higher levels of disadvantage or disorder had significantly higher body mass index, waist circumference, total percent body fat, and abdominal visceral adipose tissue (VAT) mass compared to those in less disadvantaged neighborhoods (p < 0.05). Adolescents reporting higher levels of perceived neighborhood disorder had significantly higher waist circumference, total percent body fat, and truncal body fat percent than those reporting lower levels of perceived neighborhood disorder (p < 0.05).
Adolescents residing in the highest-level disadvantaged neighborhoods had 2.9, 2.7, and 3.0 times greater odds of having obesity and elevated abdominal VAT mass and total body fat mass, respectively, compared to neighborhoods with the lowest levels of disadvantage. Similarly, adolescents living in neighborhoods with the highest levels of perceived disorder had 2.1 times higher odds of having both obesity and elevated total body fat mass.
No statistically significant associations were observed for neighborhoods with moderate levels of disadvantage and disorder.
Association With Other Cardiometabolic Risk Factors
None of the other markers of cardiometabolic disease risk (low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, triglycerides, systolic blood pressure, and cardiometabolic disease risk score) were significantly related to neighborhood disadvantage, except diastolic blood pressure. Higher levels of perceived neighborhood disorder were related to a higher diastolic blood pressure percentile (p = 0.004). No statistically significant associations were observed for neighborhoods with moderate and high levels of disadvantage and disorder when compared to the neighborhoods with the lowest levels of disadvantage and disorder.
In conclusion, disadvantaged and disordered neighborhood social environments, including those with higher perceived disorder and neighborhood concentrated disadvantage, are associated with higher adiposity, but not other cardiometabolic risk factors, during adolescence. Interventions for adolescent adiposity should, therefore, take the neighborhood environment into consideration for a tailored individual approach.
Denstel, K. D., Beyl, R. A., Danos, D., Kepper, M. M., Staiano, A. E., Theall, K. P., Tseng, T., & Broyles, S. T. (2023). An examination of the relationships between the neighborhood social environment, adiposity, and cardiometabolic disease risk in adolescence: a cross-sectional study. BMC Public Health, 23(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-023-16580-0