Neighborhood problems as sources of chronic stress: development of a measure of neighborhood problems, and associations with socioeconomic status and health

Ann Behav Med. Summer 2001;23(3):177-85. doi: 10.1207/S15324796ABM2303_5.


The impact of the residential neighborhood on health and well-being is being increasingly recognized in behavioral medicine, with evidence for neighborhood-level effects that are independent of the individual characteristics of residents. This study addressed the possibility that the effects of neighborhood are due in part to exposure to community-wide stressors rather than variations inprotective factors such as social capital. A questionnaire survey including a 10-item neighborhood problems scale and measures of self-reported health, health behaviors, and social capital was completed by 419 residents of 18 higher socioeconomic status (SES) neighborhoods and 235 residents of 19 lower SES neighborhoods. Data were analyzed using regression and multilevel methods. Neighborhood problem scores were greater in lower than higher SES neighborhoods, positively associated with individual deprivation, and negatively correlated with social capital. Neighborhood problems were not related to smoking, diet, alcohol consumption, or physical activity. However, neighborhood problems were associated with poor self-rated health, psychological distress on the General Health Questionnaire, and impaired physical function, independent of age, sex, neighborhood SES, individual deprivation, and social capital. Adjusted odds ratios for the highest versus lowest neighborhood problem quartiles ranged from 2.05 (confidence interval = 1.15-3.69) for poor self-rated health to 3.07 (1.63-5.79) for impairedphysical function. The results provide preliminary evidence that residential neighborhood problems constitute sources of chronic stress that may increase risk ofpoor health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Chronic Disease
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Residence Characteristics*
  • Social Class
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires