People who move to a more socioeconomically depressed neighborhood face a risk of gaining weight, a new study suggests.
An elevated incidence of obesity in certain regions of the U.S. has always strongly suggested socioeconomic, social and physical environments can hamper healthy behaviors that might otherwise prevent excessive weight gain, the researchers say.
In a new study, they set out to find what the effect on a person's weight might be during a move from one neighborhood to another.
Tracking more than 1,000 Dallas County residents between the ages of 18 and 65 for seven years, the researchers discovered people moving to more socioeconomically depressed neighborhoods gained weight. The researchers rated the neighborhoods they had lived in and the neighborhoods they moved to using a Neighborhood Deprivation Index indicating socioeconomic status.
The people in the study who moved into a new neighborhood with a higher index rating than those who moved into a neighborhood with an index rating the same or lower gained more weight, they reported in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
For every increase of one unit in the NDI, residents gained around 1.41 pounds, the researchers wrote.
The relationship between a neighborhood's socioeconomic character and the health of its residents has been poorly studied before now, says researcher Tiffany M. Powell-Wiley.
"Longitudinal studies specifically examining the relationship between neighborhood SES (socioeconomic status) change and obesity as a cardiovascular risk factor are rare and have had methodological limitations," she says. "This study sheds important light on the impact that changes in neighborhood socioeconomic deprivation by moving can have on weight change and subsequent obesity."
A lack of opportunities or facilities for exercise combined with a preponderance of fast food restaurants and long work hours all contribute to interfering with a healthy lifestyle for residents in a depressed neighborhood environment, the National Institutes of Health says.
Previous studies have also found a link between living in a disadvantaged neighborhood and an increase in stress hormones.
Such disparities "can be addressed through focused community-based public health initiatives," the researchers suggest in their published study.
The new work is yet more evidence that a person's living and working environment can have a significant impact on health, they add, and is an issue that needs to be tackled at the highest levels.
"More broadly, addressing neighborhood deprivation as a risk factor for obesity and obesity-related cardiovascular disease requires consideration of public policy that can address sources of deprivation."