Adolescent females living in disadvantaged neighborhoods are at increased risk for obesity

Disparities/Minority Health

As adolescents transition into young adults, their weight may change from a healthy value to one reflecting either overweight or obesity. Overweight is most prevalent among black females during adolescence. Living in a disadvantaged neighborhood boosts the chances of becoming obese for adolescent black and Hispanic females, but not for males, according to a new study. The researchers collected data on 5,759 adolescents who were 11 to 15 years of age during wave 1 when initial 1994 data were analyzed from The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. A second group of data was evaluated later when the adolescents were aged 17 to 21. More than half of the adolescents (54 percent) were female. Blacks comprised 21 percent and Hispanics 16 percent of the study population.

Blacks were the most socioeconomically disadvantaged of all three racial/ethnic groups. They lived in neighborhoods where 26 percent of individuals lived in poverty compared to whites who lived in neighborhoods where only 11 percent of individuals lived in poverty. At wave 1, the rate of obesity was highest for black females at 14 percent, followed by 9 percent of Hispanic females, and 5 percent of white females. This disparity became even more marked at wave 3 in 2002, when 34 percent of black females were obese compared to 30 percent of Hispanic females and 19 percent of white females. Although not as dramatic, obesity was highest among black males at wave 1 (17 percent), followed by 13 percent for Hispanics, and 9 percent for whites. By wave 3, black males were significantly more likely to be obese than whites (24 percent vs. 20 percent).

Neighborhood disadvantage was found to be a significant predictor of female obesity in young adulthood. However, this disadvantage did not increase the risk of obesity in males whether they were black, Hispanic, or white. According to the researchers, more policy efforts are needed to ameliorate challenges associated with living in disadvantaged neighborhoods, such as ensuring the availability of safe and adequate public recreational spaces and greater opportunities to buy healthy food. The study was supported by AHRQ (HS16568).

See "Racial and ethnic disparities in obesity during the transition to adulthood: The contingent and nonlinear impact of neighborhood disadvantage," by Lisa M. Nicholson, Ph.D., and Christopher R. Browning, Ph.D., in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence 41, pp. 53-66, 2012.

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Page last reviewed April 2013
Internet Citation: Adolescent females living in disadvantaged neighborhoods are at increased risk for obesity: Disparities/Minority Health. April 2013. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/news/newsletters/research-activities/13apr/0413RA9.html