According to a study, higher obesity rates are linked with characteristics of neighborhoods, like the area's income level, the built environment, and access to healthy food.
Led by Jennifer L. Black of New York University's Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health, the research team critically reviewed 90 studies published between 1997 through 2007 on neighbourhood determinants of obesity through the PubMed and PsychInfo databases.
The researchers found that neighborhoods with decreased economic and social resources have higher rates of obesity.
They also found that residents in low-income urban areas are more likely to report greater neighbourhood barriers to physical activity, such as limited opportunities for daily walking or physical activity and reduced access to stores that sell healthy foods, especially large supermarkets.
The authors have presented a conceptual framework in order to organize the different approaches to assessing neighbourhood-level determinants of obesity.
The framework is intended to guide future inquiry by describing pathways through which neighborhoods might influence body weight.
It consists of three inter-related layers, which include the influence of social factors, access to quality food and exercise, and individual factors including behavioural intentions.
Each level has indirect and direct influences on behavioural choices and may ultimately impact weight.
"While individual-level characteristics such as income, cultural preferences, and genetic predisposition contribute to geographic disparities in weight, neighbourhood-level services and structures that affect physical activity behaviours and dietary choices are emerging as important and potentially modifiable loci for public health intervention," the authors said.
This study is published in the January 2008 issue of Nutrition Reviews.