Context Matters: School and Neighborhood Influences on Adolescent Obesity

Li Niu, Fordham University


Recent estimates suggest that over 20% of adolescents in the United States are obese. Adolescent obesity is linked to elevated risk of adulthood obesity and long-term adverse health outcomes. Research has shown that both schools and neighborhoods play important roles in determining adolescent weight status. This study assessed the relative impacts of important school and neighborhood social and built factors (i.e., physical activity resources and social connectedness) on the weight status of adolescents concurrently, and 13 years later. This study uses data from Wave I (1995 - 1996) and Wave IV (2008) of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health), the largest longitudinal survey of a nationally representative sample of adolescents in grades 7 to 12 in the United States. Results from cross-classified multilevel models showed attending a school with lower mean levels of parent education, and living in a neighborhood with lower average parent education or lower percentage of Whites, were each associated with higher BMI both in adolescence and in young adulthood. School and neighborhood physical activity resources and social connectedness were not significantly associated with adolescent BMI at Wave I; however, living in a neighborhood with more physical activity resources predicted lower young adult BMI at Wave IV. Although relatively small in magnitude, this effect was independent of various factors, including adolescent baseline weight, parent obesity status, and individual and family socio-demographic characteristics. These findings highlight the importance of school and neighborhood demographic features on adolescent weight status. Results also suggest that improving neighborhood infrastructure may promote healthy weight.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Niu, Li, "Context Matters: School and Neighborhood Influences on Adolescent Obesity" (2018). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10743121.