Hotspots of childhood obesity in a large metropolitan area: does neighbourhood social and built environment play a part?

Int J Epidemiol. 2020 Jun 1;49(3):934-943. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyz205.


Background: Effective place-based interventions for childhood obesity call for the recognition of the high-risk neighbourhoods and an understanding of the determinants present locally. However, such an approach is uncommon. In this study, we identified neighbourhoods with elevated prevalence of childhood obesity ('hotspots') in the Porto Metropolitan Area and investigated to what extent the socio-economic and built environment characteristics of the neighbourhoods explained such hotspots.

Methods: We used data on 5203 7-year-old children from a population-based birth cohort, Generation XXI. To identify hotspots, we estimated local obesity odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (95%CI) using generalized additive models with a non-parametric smooth for location. Measures of the socio-economic and built environment were determined using a Geographic Information System. Associations between obesity and neighbourhood characteristics were expressed as OR and 95%CI after accounting for individual-level variables.

Results: At 7 years of age, 803 (15.4%) children were obese. The prevalence of obesity varied across neighbourhoods and two hotspots were identified, partially explained by individual-level variables. Adjustment for neighbourhood characteristics attenuated the ORs and further explained the geographic variation. This model revealed an association between neighbourhood socio-economic deprivation score and obesity (OR = 1.014, 95%CI 1.004-1.025), as well as with the presence of fast-food restaurants at a walkable distance from the residence (OR = 1.37, 1.06-1.77).

Conclusions: In our geographic area it was possible to identify neighbourhoods with elevated prevalence of childhood obesity and to suggest that targeting such high-priority neighbourhoods and their environmental characteristics may help reduce childhood obesity.

Keywords: Spatial analysis; built environment; childhood obesity; neighbourhoods; socio-economic factors.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Built Environment / statistics & numerical data
  • Child
  • Disease Hotspot*
  • Humans
  • Pediatric Obesity* / epidemiology
  • Portugal / epidemiology
  • Residence Characteristics / statistics & numerical data
  • Social Environment
  • Urban Population* / statistics & numerical data