The Impact of Change in Neighborhood Poverty on BMI Trajectory of 37,544 New York City Youth: A Longitudinal Study

Abstract [from journal]

Background: Neighborhood poverty may increase childhood obesity risk. However, evidence for the neighborhood poverty-obesity relationship is limited. The purpose of this study was to examine how moving to a higher or lower poverty neighborhood impacts body mass index (BMI) z-score trajectories among youth, with the goal of informing policy change, interventions, and clinical practices to reduce childhood obesity.

Methods: Methods entailed secondary analysis of existing longitudinal data. The sample included youth attending New York City public schools in grades kindergarten through twelfth from school years 2006/2007 through 2016/2017. Eligibility criteria included moving to a higher or lower poverty neighborhood during the data midpoint [school years 2010/2011 through 2013/2014] of the 12-year data-period; New York City-specific metrics were used to define both neighborhood (Neighborhood Tabulation Area) and relevant neighborhood poverty levels (< 5, 5 to < 10%, 10 to < 20%, 20 to < 30%, 30 to < 40% and ≥ 40% of individuals below Federal Poverty Level). Two-piece latent growth curve models were used to describe BMI z-score trajectories of youth who moved to higher versus lower poverty neighborhoods, with propensity score weighting to account for preexisting differences between the two groups. Primary analyses were stratified by sex and exploratory subgroup analyses were stratified by sex and developmental stage (early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescence) to explore sensitive periods for neighborhood poverty exposure.

Results: Of 532,513 youth with home address data, 18,370 youth moved to a higher poverty neighborhood and 19,174 moved to a lower poverty neighborhood (n = 37,544). Females and males who moved to a higher poverty neighborhood experienced less favorable BMI z-score trajectories for obesity risk, though effects were small. Exploratory subgroup analyses demonstrated that negative effects of neighborhood poverty were most pronounced among young and adolescent females and young males, whereas effects were mixed for other subgroups.

Conclusions: Youth who moved to higher poverty neighborhoods experienced less favorable BMI z-score trajectories for obesity risk, though effects were small and most consistent for females and younger youth. Additional research is needed to illuminate neighborhood poverty's impact on obesity, in order to inform policy, intervention, clinical, and research efforts to reduce obesity and improve child well-being.