Childhood obesity and the associated roles of neighborhood and biologic stress

Prev Med Rep. 2019 Mar 18;14:100849. doi: 10.1016/j.pmedr.2019.100849. eCollection 2019 Jun.


Exposure to violence and obesity continues to be growing epidemics, particularly among children. Our objective was to increase our understanding of the association between neighborhood violence exposure and children's weight and how biologic stress may mediate this relation. A matched, community-recruited cross-sectional study of 90 children, ages 5-16 years, from 52 neighborhoods took place in the greater New Orleans, LA area between 2012 and 2013. Children were matched on their propensity for living in a high violence neighborhood and previous exposure to Hurricane Katrina. Primary neighborhood exposure included violent crime, operationalized as crime rates within specific radii of children's home. Rates of exposure within 500, 1000 and 2000 meter radii from the child's home were calculated. Primary outcomes were body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference, and the primary mediator was telomere length (TL), a marker of cellular aging. Significant variation in obesity and TL was observed at the neighborhood level and violent crime was significantly associated with weight status, with an increase of 1.24 units in BMI for each additional violent crime in the child's neighborhood and a significant mediated or indirect effect of TL in the crime-BMI relation (0.32, 95% bootstrapped CI = 0.05, 0.81; 32% total mediated effect). Findings strengthen existing evidence linking neighborhood violence to childhood health and identify biologic stress, indexed by TL, as one mechanistic pathway by which neighborhood violence may influence childhood obesity. Neighborhood violence may be an important target for interventions focused on reducing obesity and other stress related health outcomes in children.

Keywords: Children; Neighborhood; Obesity; Stress; Telomere; Violence.