Influences of Physical and Social Neighborhood Environments on Children's Physical Activity and Obesity

Published In: American Journal of Public Health, v. 99, no. 2, Feb. 1, 2009, p. 271-278

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2008

by Luisa Franzini, Marc N. Elliott, Paula Cuccaro, Mark A. Schuster, M. Janice Gilliland, Jo Anne Grunbaum, Frank Franklin, Susan R. Tortolero

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OBJECTIVES: The authors investigated the association between physical and social neighborhood environments and fifth-grade students' physical activity and obesity. METHODS: The authors collected data on 650 children and their primary caregivers during phase 1 of Healthy Passages, a multisite, community-based, cross-sectional study of health risk behaviors and health outcomes in children. They conducted independent systematic neighborhood observations to measure neighborhood physical characteristics, and the authors analyzed survey data on social processes. The authors modeled children's physical activity and obesity status with structural equation models that included latent variables for the physical and social environments. RESULTS: After the authors controlled for children's sociodemographic factors, they found that a favorable social environment was positively associated with several measures of physical activity and that physical activity was negatively associated with obesity in these children. Physical environment was not significantly associated with physical activity. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings suggest that neighborhood social factors as well as the physical environment should be considered in the development of health policy and interventions to reduce childhood obesity.

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