Is Your Zip Code Impacting Your Waistline?

Health Professional

Those who move to poorer neighborhoods tend to gain weight. That statement is based off the findings of a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The proposed connection between environment and obesity does not have many studies looking at data from the same individuals over a period of time, which is why researchers for this latest study wanted to examine the long term impact of moving to a poorer neighborhood in regards to weight gain in connection to cardiovascular risk.

The group of 3000 Dallas County, TX residents had ages ranging between 18-65 years-old. Data was collected at the start of the study and at a 7-year follow-up. Data collected included self-reported medical histories, demographics, self-reported physical activity, and height, weight, and waist circumference measurements.

Researchers took into account other factors that influence weight gain, such as low income, lack of education, and physical inactivity to assess the impact of the environment independently.

During this seven year period, 49% of participants moved. Prior to the moves, all participants BMI and waist circumference measurement were similar. Those who moved to poorer neighborhoods gained more weight that those who did not move or moved to a better neighborhood. Researchers also found the more disadvantaged the neighborhood, the greater the weight gain.

Neighborhood status was determined by using the Neighborhood Deprivation Index (NDI). The NDI factors in 21 variables, such as percent of households on public assistance, incomes below poverty level, and unemployment.

For those who moved to a poorer neighborhood, average weight gain was 0.64 kg for each unit of difference on the NDI scale. Over a 4 year period of time, those who lived in the poorer neighborhood gained an additional 0.85kg for each unit of difference on the NDI scale.

A previous Moving to Opportunity program showed how moving out of high-poverty areas leads to reduced obesity. This more recent study shows how moving into an area of low-poverty increases obesity.

How to Use This Information

When implementing behavior changes and recommendations, you need to take into account more than just the desired change, you need to factor in the environment and resources available. Getting more exercise is not so feasible if there is no gym or no safe place to walk. If you are in this situation, discuss with your doctor how to get access to the resources you need.

Researchers also suggest those living in disadvantaged neighborhoods are likely dealing with greater levels of biological stress. Changes in cortisol and C-reactive protein associated with living in poorer neighborhoods can promote weight gain.

This particular study did not focus on consumption of high-fat foods or alcohol, but we could also speculate those living in poorer neighborhoods have reduced access to grocery stores allowing them to opt for diets rich in fruits and vegetables.

Making Heart Healthy Behavior Changes

Knowing what you have to do to improve your heart health and living in an environment that supports the desired behavior changes are just two pieces of the puzzle. Your readiness to make these changes has a significant impact on your success. Use this assessment to get yourself on the right path --