Neighborhood, Family and Peer-Level Predictors of Obesity-Related Health Behaviors Among Young Adolescents

Published in: Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 2016

Posted on on July 19, 2016

by Sarah Salvy, Jeremy N. V. Miles, Regina A. Shih, Joan S. Tucker, Elizabeth J. D'Amico

Read More

Access further information on this document at Journal of Pediatric Psychology

This article was published outside of RAND. The full text of the article can be found at the link above.

Research Questions

  1. Does higher peer social functioning (PSF) mitigate the effects of low neighborhood socioeconomic status on adolescent health behaviors?
  2. Do PSF and family connectedness affect youths' dietary and physical activity choices?


This longitudinal study examines peer social functioning (PSF), familism, and neighborhood socioeconomic status (NSES) on adolescents' obesity risk.


Participants (N = 2,144) were originally sampled from 16 middle schools in Southern California (45% male; 45% Hispanic) as part of an alcohol and other drug use prevention program (CHOICE). Multilevel regression modeling tested main effects and interaction terms of PSF, familism, and NSES assessed at Wave 5 (M age = 14.15) on body mass index and risk of obesity-related behaviors at Wave 6.


Higher PSF predicted healthier eating habits, less screen time, and more physical activity. Higher familism also predicted more physical activity. The positive effect of PSF on healthy eating was stronger among youth who reported higher familism. PSF also moderated the associations of NSES with healthy eating and physical activity.


Findings emphasize the importance of targeting both peer and family factors, which may be more amenable to change than NSES.

Key Findings

  • Youths who reported strong connections with their families engaged in physical activity more often than those who reported weaker connections, supporting the use of family-based interventions to promote healthy behaviors.
  • Adolescents with higher peer social functioning (PSF) ate more healthfully and reported less screen time than youths with lower PSF, supporting interventions that help adolescents develop healthy peer relationships to foster healthier eating and less sedentary behavior.
  • PSF seemed to be less influential on dietary choices for youths living in lower neighborhood socioeconomic status (NSES) than those from higher NSES.
  • The positive effect of social environment on physical activity was observed across levels of NSES, which suggests that creating social engagement opportunities may be a cost-effective way to increase physical activity in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation External publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

Our mission to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis is enabled through our core values of quality and objectivity and our unwavering commitment to the highest level of integrity and ethical behavior. To help ensure our research and analysis are rigorous, objective, and nonpartisan, we subject our research publications to a robust and exacting quality-assurance process; avoid both the appearance and reality of financial and other conflicts of interest through staff training, project screening, and a policy of mandatory disclosure; and pursue transparency in our research engagements through our commitment to the open publication of our research findings and recommendations, disclosure of the source of funding of published research, and policies to ensure intellectual independence. For more information, visit

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.