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Do Neighborhood Health-Promoting Resources Alter Risk for Obesity

April 29, 2013

Amy AuchinclossWhile behavioral change is necessary to reverse the obesity epidemic, it can be difficult to achieve and sustain in unsupportive residential environments. This study looked at whether environmental resources supporting walking and a healthy diet were associated with reduced obesity incidence.

Published in the March issue of Obesity, “Neighborhood health-promoting resources and obesity risk (the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis),” the study was led by Dr. Amy Auchincloss (an assistant professor at the Drexel University School of Public Health [SPH]) with co-authors from University of Michigan School of Public Health, University of California Berkeley, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Gramercy Research Group.

Data were collected from 4,008 adults between the ages of 45-84 who participated in the neighborhood ancillary study of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. Participants were enrolled at multiple study sites throughout the U.S. (2000–2002) and then followed them for five years. Neighborhood scales were derived from a supplementary survey that asked community residents to rate availability of healthy foods and walking environments for a one-mile buffer area. Obesity was defined as body mass index ≥ 30 kg/m2.

Associations between obesity and neighborhood exposure were examined using proportional hazards and generalized linear regression. Four hundred and six new obesity cases occurred during five years of follow-up. A healthy neighborhood food environment was associated with a 10% lower obesity incidence. Associations between neighborhood walking environment and lower obesity were weaker and did not persist after adjustment.

The authors state that altering the residential environment so that healthier behaviors and lifestyles can be easily chosen may be a pre-condition for sustaining existing healthy behaviors and for adopting new healthy behaviors.

Funding for this research was supported by grant 2R01 HL071759 and contracts N01-HC-95159 through N01-HC-95169 from the National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.