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Does Living in Latino Neighborhoods Affect Risk for Obesity? Findings from a Study of Social Capital and Park Availability in Los Angeles Neighborhoods

  • Author(s): Garcia, Jennifer
  • Advisor(s): Gee, Gilbert
  • et al.
Abstract

Social and physical features of the neighborhood environment may influence obesity risk for the general public, as well as, for specific ethnic minority groups such as Latinos. According to the ethnic enclave perspective, minority communities contain protective resources such as social capital, which can promote the exchange of information and enhance trust among residents. In turn, these social resources can encourage healthful diets and physical activity, which then reduces the likelihood of health problems such as obesity. At the same time, according to the residential segregation perspective, minority communities also face structural disadvantages including the limited availability of health promoting resources such as parks. A lack of neighborhood parks can reduce opportunities for physical activity and increase obesity risk.

Accordingly, this dissertation investigated two features of Latino neighborhood environments in Los Angeles that may be related to obesity risk: social capital and park availability. First, I examined the relationship between Latino neighborhood composition and individual obesity risk among a sample of adults (n=2,919) using data from Wave 1 (2000-2001) of the Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey (L.A. FANS). I used multilevel regression analysis to model the relationship between neighborhood percent Latino and Body Mass Index (BMI) controlling for individual age, race/ethnicity, gender, nativity status, family income and education. To test the hypothesis that social capital may help explain the relationship between neighborhood percent Latino and obesity, I used multilevel mediation analysis. My analyses showed that Latino-concentrated neighborhoods were associated with higher BMI, but I found no support for the mediating role of social capital (e.g., social cohesion or group participation) in the neighborhood-obesity pathway.

Second, I also examined differences in neighborhood-level park features using data from the Los Angeles County Location Management System (2010), a database of park location information for all Los Angeles County census tracts (n=2,258). I used zero-inflated negative binomial regression to model the number of park features as a function of Latino immigrant neighborhoods, controlling for percent black, percent Asian, percent living in poverty, total population, population density, land area, and attached housing. These data showed that there were fewer total park features available in Latino immigrant neighborhoods. Further, Latino immigrant neighborhoods had fewer natural park features such as campgrounds and hiking trails.

Findings from this dissertation contribute to the emerging body of literature that suggests Latino neighborhoods may have obesogenic features. I find some support for the residential segregation perspective--Latino neighborhoods were associated with higher BMI, and social capital does not appear to attenuate this relationship. In addition, Latino immigrant neighborhoods had few park features. These findings are noteworthy because differences in neighborhood resources may contribute to the disproportionately high prevalence of obesity among Latinos. More research is required to explicate what role, if any, the neighborhood social environment plays in the relationship between Latino neighborhoods and obesity. In addition, future work should consider the connections between disparities in the availability of neighborhood resources such as parks, and disparities in physical activity and obesity.

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