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Growing up in poor neighborhoods may increase risk for obesity

The longer people live in low-income neighborhoods, greater the risk for developing obesity.

By Stephen Feller
Growing up in poor neighborhoods may increase risk for obesity
New research shows where you live may matter for obesity: Adolescents who grow up in lower-income neighborhoods are more likely to develop or maintain obesity into adulthood than those who grow up in more affluent areas. Photo by karamysh/Shutterstock

DENVER, March 15 (UPI) -- Growing up in poor neighborhoods increases the risk for obesity, with the pattern stronger among young women, according to a recent study.

Researchers at the University of Colorado found consistently living in low-income neighborhoods puts young people at higher risk for becoming or remaining obese, and even moving to a poorer neighborhood increases the risk.

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Conversely, moving out of low-income neighborhoods can decrease the risk of obesity.

"The research demonstrates that the long-term residential experiences of teenagers can affect their life-long health," Dr. Adam Lippert, an assistant professor at Colorado University in Denver, said in a press release. "It's encouraging to see that the risk of obesity can be curtailed by moving out of a low-income areas."

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For the study, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, researchers examined census data for 12,164 adolescents in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health in grades 7 through 12, who were then followed for 13 years.

The data showed adolescents who live in low-income neighborhoods were more likely to be obese, or to become obese, than those who lived in more affluent areas. Just moving to poorer neighborhoods was also shown to increase the risk.

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Over longer periods of time in the neighborhoods, the researchers saw a link between a lack of exercise amenities, healthy food sources and increased stress with the higher risk for obesity.

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"Exiting severe neighborhood poverty curtails this risk, while entering and remaining in neighborhood poverty in adulthood increases it," researchers wrote in the study. Adding that the "findings support accumulation of risks and social mobility perspectives and highlight how previous and current neighborhood contexts are relevant for health."

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