Pathways Through Which Higher Neighborhood Crime Is Longitudinally Associated with Greater Body Mass Index

Published in: International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, Volume 14 (November 2017), page 155. doi: 10.1186/s12966-017-0611-y

by Andrea Richardson, Wendy M. Troxel, Bonnie Ghosh-Dastidar, Gerald P. Hunter, Robin L. Beckman, Natalie Colabianchi, Rebecca L. Collins, Tamara Dubowitz

Read More

Access further information on this document at International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity

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


Although crime and perceived safety are associated with obesity and body mass index (BMI), the pathways are less clear. Two likely pathways by which crime and perceived safety may impact obesity are through distress and physical activity.


We examined data from 2013 to 2014 for 644 predominantly African-American adults (mean age 57 years; 77% female) living in low-income Pittsburgh, PA neighborhoods, including self-reported perceptions of safety and emotional distress, interviewer-measured height/weight, and physical activity measured via accelerometry. We used secondary data on neighborhood crime from 2011 to 2013. We built a structural equation model to examine the longitudinal direct and indirect pathways from crime to BMI through perceived safety, distress and physical activity.


Long-term exposure to crime was positively associated with lack of perceived safety ([beta] = 0.11, p = 0.005) and lack of perceived safety was positively associated with BMI ([beta] = 0.08, p = 0.03). The beneficial association between physical activity and BMI ([beta] = -0.15, p < 0.001) was attenuated by a negative association between crime and physical activity ([beta] = -0.09, p = 0.01). Although crime was associated with distress we found no evidence of a path from crime to BMI via distress.


Our findings suggest decrements in perceived safety and physical activity are important processes that might explain why neighborhood crime is associated with greater BMI.

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.