Relation between neighborhood environments and obesity in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis

Am J Epidemiol. 2008 Jun 1;167(11):1349-57. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwn047. Epub 2008 Mar 25.


This study investigated associations between neighborhood physical and social environments and body mass index in 2,865 participants of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) aged 45-84 years and residing in Maryland, New York, and North Carolina. Neighborhood (census tract) environments were measured in non-MESA participants residing in MESA neighborhoods (2000-2002). The neighborhood physical environment score combined measures of a better walking environment and greater availability of healthy foods. The neighborhood social environment score combined measures of greater aesthetic quality, safety, and social cohesion and less violent crime. Marginal maximum likelihood was used to estimate associations between neighborhood environments and body mass index (kg/m(2)) before and after adjustment for individual-level covariates. MESA residents of neighborhoods with better physical environments had lower body mass index (mean difference per standard deviation higher neighborhood measure = -2.38 (95% confidence interval (CI): -3.38, -1.38) kg/m(2) for women and -1.20 (95% CI: -1.84, -0.57) kg/m(2) for men), independent of age, race/ethnicity, education, and income. Attenuation of these associations after adjustment for diet and physical activity suggests a mediating role of these behaviors. In men, the mean body mass index was higher in areas with better social environments (mean difference = 0.52 (95% CI: 0.07, 0.97) kg/m(2)). Improvement in the neighborhood physical environment should be considered for its contribution to reducing obesity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Atherosclerosis / epidemiology*
  • Atherosclerosis / ethnology*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Continental Population Groups*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Male
  • Maryland / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • New York / epidemiology
  • North Carolina / epidemiology
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / ethnology*
  • Prevalence
  • Residence Characteristics*
  • Social Environment*