Neighborhood Stressors and Health: Crime Spikes and Short-Term Variability in BMI

Christopher Browning, Ohio State University
Kathleen A. Cagney, University of Chicago

Disparities in the prevalence of overweight and obesity across sociodemographic characteristics remain a source of enduring concern for social scientists, clinicians, and policy makers. We apply neighborhood theory to understanding variation in short-term changes in body mass index (BMI), focusing on the role that neighborhood social cohesion and rapid increases in the crime rate (“crime spikes”) play in influencing weight gain. Data on BMI change for adults ages 30-65 are drawn from the 2000-2002 Dallas Heart Study. Results from multilevel linear models indicate that crime spikes increase short-term weight gain while social cohesion exerts a protective effect. However, social cohesion amplifies the positive impact of crime spikes on weight gain, suggesting that cohesive neighborhoods more efficiently disseminate stress-inducing information about local crime rates. These findings shed light on the contextual processes that influence changing health status and offer a rigorous design for the investigation of neighborhood effects.

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Presented in Session 53: Neighborhood Influences on Health: Exploring Mechanisms