Obesogenic Environments in Youth: Concepts and Methods from a Longitudinal National Sample

American Journal of Preventive MedicineAmerican Journal of Preventive Medicine, May 2012, Vol. 42, No. 5

“To effectively prevent and reduce childhood obesity through healthy community design, it is essential to understand which neighborhood environment features influence weight gain in various age groups. However, most neighborhood environment research is cross-sectional, focuses on adults, and is often carried out in small, nongeneralizable geographic areas. Thus, there is a great need for longitudinal neighborhood environment research in diverse populations across the life cycle. This paper describes (1) insights and challenges of longitudinal neighborhood environment research and (2) advancements and remaining gaps in measurement and study design that examine individuals and neighborhoods within the context of the broader community. Literature-based research and fındings from the Obesity and Neighborhood Environment Database (ONEdata), a unique longitudinal GIS that is spatially and temporally linked to data in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (N=20,745), provide examples of current limitations in this area of research. Findings suggest a need for longitudinal methodologic advancements to better control for dynamic sources of bias, investigate and capture appropriate temporal frameworks, and address complex residential location processes within families. Development of improved neighborhood environment measures that capture relevant geographic areas within complex communities and investigation of differences across urbanicity and sociodemographic composition are needed. Further longitudinal research is needed to identify, refıne, and evaluate national and local policies to most effectively reduce childhood obesity.”