Neighborhood Context and Ethnicity Differences in Body Mass Index

A Multilevel Analysis Using the NHANES III Survey (1988-1994)

Published in: Economics and Human Biology, v. 5, no. 2, July 2007, p. 179-203

Posted on RAND.org on July 01, 2007

by D. Phuong Do, Tamara Dubowitz, Chloe E. Bird, Nicole Lurie, Jose J. Escarce, Brian Karl Finch

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A growing body of literature has documented a link between neighborhood context and health outcomes. However, little is known about the relationship between neighborhood context and body mass index (BMI) or whether the association between neighborhood context and BMI differs by ethnicity. This paper investigates several neighborhood characteristics as potential explanatory factors for the variation of BMI across the United States; further, this paper explores to what extent segregation and the concentration of disadvantage across neighborhoods help explain ethnic disparities in BMI. Using data geo-coded at the census tract-level and linked with individual-level data from the Third National Health and Examination Survey in the United States (U.S.), we find significant variation in BMI across U.S. neighborhoods. In addition, neighborhood characteristics have a significant association with body mass and partially explain ethnic disparities in BMI, net of individual-level adjustments. These data also reveal evidence that ethnic enclaves are not in fact advantageous for the body mass index of Hispanics--a relationship counter to what has been documented for other health outcomes.

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