Theme: Geographic information systems and childhood obesity| Volume 42, ISSUE 5, e37-e46, May 2012

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Obesogenic Environments in Youth

Concepts and Methods from a Longitudinal National Sample
  • Janne Boone-Heinonen
    Department of Nutrition, Gillings School of Global Public Health and Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

    Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, School of Medicine, Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, Oregon
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  • Penny Gordon-Larsen
    Address correspondence to: Penny Gordon-Larsen, PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Carolina Population Center, University Square, 123 West Franklin St., Chapel Hill NC 27516-3997
    Department of Nutrition, Gillings School of Global Public Health and Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
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      To effectively prevent and reduce childhood obesity through healthy community design, it is essential to understand which neighborhood environment features influence weight gain in various age groups. However, most neighborhood environment research is cross-sectional, focuses on adults, and is often carried out in small, nongeneralizable geographic areas. Thus, there is a great need for longitudinal neighborhood environment research in diverse populations across the life cycle. This paper describes (1) insights and challenges of longitudinal neighborhood environment research and (2) advancements and remaining gaps in measurement and study design that examine individuals and neighborhoods within the context of the broader community. Literature-based research and findings from the Obesity and Neighborhood Environment Database (ONEdata), a unique longitudinal GIS that is spatially and temporally linked to data in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (N=20,745), provide examples of current limitations in this area of research. Findings suggest a need for longitudinal methodologic advancements to better control for dynamic sources of bias, investigate and capture appropriate temporal frameworks, and address complex residential location processes within families. Development of improved neighborhood environment measures that capture relevant geographic areas within complex communities and investigation of differences across urbanicity and sociodemographic composition are needed. Further longitudinal research is needed to identify, refine, and evaluate national and local policies to most effectively reduce childhood obesity.
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