Neighborhoods and adolescent health-risk behavior: an ecological network approach

Soc Sci Med. 2015 Jan;125:163-72. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.06.028. Epub 2014 Jun 19.


This study integrates insights from social network analysis, activity space perspectives, and theories of urban and spatial processes to present an novel approach to neighborhood effects on health-risk behavior among youth. We suggest spatial patterns of neighborhood residents' non-home routines may be conceptualized as ecological, or "eco"-networks, which are two-mode networks that indirectly link residents through socio-spatial overlap in routine activities. We further argue structural configurations of eco-networks are consequential for youth's behavioral health. In this study we focus on a key structural feature of eco-networks--the neighborhood-level extent to which household dyads share two or more activity locations, or eco-network reinforcement--and its association with two dimensions of health-risk behavior, substance use and delinquency/sexual activity. Using geographic data on non-home routine activity locations among respondents from the Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey (L.A.FANS), we constructed neighborhood-specific eco-networks by connecting sampled households to "activity clusters," which are sets of spatially-proximate activity locations. We then measured eco-network reinforcement and examined its association with dimensions of adolescent health risk behavior employing a sample of 830 youth ages 12-17 nested in 65 census tracts. We also examined whether neighborhood-level social processes (collective efficacy and intergenerational closure) mediate the association between eco-network reinforcement and the outcomes considered. Results indicated eco-network reinforcement exhibits robust negative associations with both substance use and delinquency/sexual activity scales. Eco-network reinforcement effects were not explained by potential mediating variables. In addition to introducing a novel theoretical and empirical approach to neighborhood effects on youth, our findings highlight the importance of intersecting conventional routines for adolescent behavioral health.

Keywords: Ecological networks; Health-risk behavior; Neighborhood effects; Social networks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Los Angeles
  • Male
  • Residence Characteristics*
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology
  • Social Environment*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology