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The neighborhood social environment and body mass index among youth : a mediation analysis

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posted on 20.03.2012, 00:00 authored by Jenny VeitchJenny Veitch, M van Stralen, M Chinapaw, S te Velde, David CrawfordDavid Crawford, Jo SalmonJo Salmon, Anna TimperioAnna Timperio

This study aimed to examine associations between aspects of the neighborhood social environment and body mass index (BMI) in youth both cross-sectionally and prospectively; and whether this association was mediated by physical activity, screen-time and sedentary time.

Data were collected in 2004 and 2006 in high and low socio-economic areas of Melbourne, Australia. In 2004, 185 children aged 8-9 years (47% boys) and 359 children aged 13-15 years (45% boys) participated. Parents reported their perceptions of aspects of the social environment (i.e. social networks and social trust/cohesion), and physical activity (i.e. time spent outdoors by their children; and their younger children's walking and cycling trips) and screen-time (i.e. TV viewing, computer use). The older children self-reported their walking and cycling trips and their screen-time. All children wore an accelerometer to objectively assess outside-school hours moderate- to-vigorous physical activity and sedentary time. BMI was calculated from height and weight measured in 2004 and 2006. Multilevel linear regression analyses were conducted to examine associations between the social environment and BMI. Mediation analyses using the products of coefficient method were conducted to determine whether associations between the social environment and BMI were mediated by the time spent in a range of physical activity and sedentary behaviors.

Cross-sectional and prospective regression analyses showed that a more positive social network and higher social trust/cohesion was related to lower BMI among children. There was no evidence that time spent in physical activity or sedentary behaviors mediated this relation, despite significant associations between social networks and screen-time and between screen-time and BMI.

The findings suggest that the neighborhood social environment may be important for preventing overweight and obesity in children. Further research investigating the mechanisms through which the neighborhood social environment exerts its effect on BMI is needed.



The international journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity






Article number 31


1 - 9


BioMed Central Ltd


London, England






This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2012, Veitch et al.