Neighborhood effects on body mass: Temporal and spatial dimensions

Tse Chuan Yang, Scott J. South

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Research examining the effects of neighborhood characteristics on obesity and excess body weight has generally neglected the influence of both life-course exposure and geographically-proximate communities. Using data on 9357 respondents to the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1979 Cohort, in conjunction with tract-level data from the 1980–2010 U.S. censuses, this study examines how black, Hispanic, and white individuals’ cumulative exposure to varying levels of neighborhood poverty and co-ethnic density from their mid-teens through mid-adulthood, as well as the levels of poverty and co-ethnic density in nearby, or “extralocal,” neighborhoods, are associated with their body mass index (BMI). Fixed-effect regression models show that, among Hispanics and whites, cumulative exposure to co-ethnic neighbors is a stronger positive predictor of BMI than the co-ethnic density of the immediate, point-in-time neighborhood. Among whites, cumulative exposure to neighborhood poverty is a stronger positive predictor of BMI than is the poverty rate of the current neighborhood of residence. And among both blacks and whites, the distance-weighted poverty rate of extralocal neighborhoods is significantly and inversely related to BMI, suggesting that relative affluence in nearby neighborhoods engenders relative deprivation among residents of the focal neighborhood, leading to increased BMI. Overall, the results suggest that greater attention to both the temporal and spatial dimensions of neighborhood effects has the potential to enhance our understanding of how neighborhoods affect obesity and related health outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)45-54
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - Nov 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Fixed-effect modeling
  • NLSY
  • Neighborhood effects
  • Obesity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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