Long exposure to a poor neighborhood in youth is bad for health

Photo: Anna & Michal. Creative Commons.

A recent study has shown that the duration of exposure to a disadvantaged neighborhood during childhood is linked to poorer health in adult life.

Using data about 1,757 people from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (conducted in the USA from 1970 to 2011), Nicole Kravitz-Wirtz at the University of Michigan found a strong correlation between the average exposure to a poor quality neighborhood between the ages of 1 and 17 and later poor health. Those most exposed were two times more likely to report poor health when aged 18-30 than those least exposed.

Many studies have linked poor neighborhoods with poor health, but this is the first to examine the effects of length of exposure. A number of explanations for the link have been advanced:

  • Lower social capital or less trading of free help and favors within the community.
  • Less trust and ability to take collective action for the common good.
  • Fewer resources, including health facilities.
  • Greater exposure to air pollution, traffic and other physical dangers.

The study also found a striking difference in long-term exposure to a poor neighborhood between whites and nonwhites. At the age of 1, 74% of the nonwhites in the sample were living in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods, compared to 16% of white children. At the age of 17, 59% of nonwhites were living in the most disadvantaged areas, compared to 10% of whites. Nonwhite children spent on average 67% of their time living in the most deprived areas, compared to 15% of white children; 61% of nonwhite children lived their entire lives in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods, compared to 13% of whites.

Nonwhites in the sample were more than twice as likely to report poor health between the ages of 18 and 30.

Kravitz-Wirtz recommends paying more attention to creating long-term place-based investments in children and young people in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

 

Kravitz-Wirtz N (2016), Cumulative effects of growing up in separate and unequal neighborhoods on racial disparities in self-rated health in early adulthood, Journal of Health and Social Behavior 57.4