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

Published in: Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 2016

Posted on RAND.org on July 19, 2016

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

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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?

Objective

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

Methods

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.

Results

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.

Conclusion

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.

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