A new study has found that people tend to gain weight if they relocate to a more socioeconomically deprived neighborhood.
Since certain regions in the United States are characterized by higher rates of obesity, it has been presumed that a person’s socioeconomic, physical, and social environments can help or hinder opportunities for healthy behaviors.
In the new study, researchers wanted to know whether people tend to gain weight, lose weight, or stay the same after relocating to a neighborhood of different a socioeconomic status.
The researchers used data from the Dallas Heart Survey (DHS), a probability-based sample of over 3,000 Dallas County, Texas, residents aged 18-65 years. Of these, 1,835 participants completed a detailed survey, provided body measurements, and underwent laboratory testing.
Each participant was linked to a Dallas County census block group. Each block group was given a neighborhood Deprivation Index (NDI), which represents the neighborhood’s socioeconomic status. A higher value NDI indicates a higher level of deprivation.
Participants were asked 18 survey questions on their perception of the neighborhood to assess perceived neighborhood violence, physical environment, and social cohesion.
“Longitudinal studies specifically examining the relationship between neighborhood SES change and obesity as a cardiovascular risk factor are rare and have had methodologic limitations,” said lead investigator Tiffany M. Powell-Wiley, M.D., M.P.H., a clinical investigator for the National Institutes of Health and lead author of the study.
“This study sheds important light on the impact that changes in neighborhood socioeconomic deprivation by moving can have on weight change and subsequent obesity.”
Among participants who relocated, 263 moved to a higher-NDI (more disadvantaged) neighborhood, 586 to a lower-NDI neighborhood, 47 moved but had no NDI change, and 939 people remained in the same neighborhood. Those who moved to higher-NDI areas gained more weight compared to those who remained at the same NDI or moved to lower NDI.
The study also showed that among those who moved to higher-NDI neighborhoods, the impact of NDI change on weight gain increased for those who lived in a new neighborhood for more than four years, with a mean additional weight gain per 1-unit NDI increase of 1.87 ilbs.
The researchers concluded that “this study identifies exposure to higher-deprivation neighborhoods with moving as a risk factor for weight gain, and suggests a potential source of disparities that can be addressed through focused community-based public health initiatives.
“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.”
The findings are published in the journal American Journal of Preventive Medicine.