Association between neighborhood safety and overweight status among urban adolescents

Duncan, Dustin T.; Johnson, Renee M.; Molnar, Beth E.; Azrael, Deborah
January 2009
BMC Public Health;2009, Vol. 9 Issue 1, p289
Academic Journal
Background: Neighborhood safety may be an important social environmental determinant of overweight. We examined the relationship between perceived neighborhood safety and overweight status, and assessed the validity of reported neighborhood safety among a representative community sample of urban adolescents (who were racially and ethnically diverse). Methods: Data come from the 2006 Boston Youth Survey, a cross-sectional study in which public high school students in Boston, MA completed a pencil-and-paper survey. The study used a two-stage, stratified sampling design whereby schools and then 9th-12th grade classrooms within schools were selected (the analytic sample included 1,140 students). Students reported their perceptions of neighborhood safety and several associated dimensions. With self-reported height and weight data, we computed body mass index (BMI, kg/m²) for the adolescents based on CDC growth charts. Chi-square statistics and corresponding p-values were computed to compare perceived neighborhood safety by the several associated dimensions. Prevalence ratios (PRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) were calculated to examine the association between perceived neighborhood safety and the prevalence of overweight status controlling for relevant covariates and school site. Results: More than one-third (35.6%) of students said they always felt safe in their neighborhood, 43.9% said they sometimes felt safe, 11.6% rarely felt safe, and 8.9% never felt safe. Those students who reported that they rarely or never feel safe in their neighborhoods were more likely than those who said they always or sometimes feel safe to believe that gang violence was a serious problem in their neighborhood or school (68.0% vs. 44.1%, p < 0.001), and to have seen someone in their neighborhood assaulted with a weapon (other than a firearm) in the past 12 months (17.8% vs. 11.3%, p = 0.025). In the fully adjusted model (including grade and school) stratified by race/ethnicity, we found a statistically significant association between feeling unsafe in one's own neighborhood and overweight status among those in the Other race/ ethnicity group [(PR = 1.56, (95% CI: 1.02, 2.40)]. Conclusion: Data suggest that perception of neighborhood safety may be associated with overweight status among urban adolescents in certain racial/ethnic groups. Policies and programs to address neighborhood safety may also be preventive for adolescent overweight.


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