"Broken Windows" and the Risk of Gonorrhea

Published In: American Journal of Public Health, v. 90, no. 2, Feb. 2000, p. 230-236

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2000

by Deborah A. Cohen, Suzanne Spear, Richard Scribner, Patty Kissinger, Karen Mason, John Wildgen

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OBJECTIVES: We examined the relationships between neighborhood conditions and gonorrhea. METHODS: We assessed 55 block groups by rating housing and street conditions. We mapped all cases of gonorrhea between 1994 and 1996 and calculated aggregated case rates by block group. We obtained public school inspection reports and assigned findings to the block groups served by the neighborhood schools. A broken windows index measured housing quality, abandoned cars, graffiti, trash, and public school deterioration. Using data from the 1990 census and 1995 updates, we determined the association between broken windows, demographic characteristics, and gonorrhea rates. RESULTS: The broken windows index explained more of the variance in gonorrhea rates than did a poverty index measuring income, unemployment, and low education. In high-poverty neighborhoods, block groups with high broken windows scores had significantly higher gonorrhea rates than block groups with low broken windows scores (46.6 per 1000 vs 25.8 per 1000; P<.001). CONCLUSIONS: The robust association of deteriorated physical conditions of local neighborhoods with gonorrhea rates, independent of poverty, merits an intervention trial to test whether the environment has a causal role in influencing high-risk sexual behaviors.

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