Crime and Safety

Violent neighborhoods lead to increased obesity in girls, study finds

New evidence shows high crime may cause young girls to gain weight.

A scientific study funded by the National Institutes of Health and published this week looked at the correlation between crime in New York City and childhood obesity and found there to be a direct link, namely in girls.

The study, which was published in Health & Place journal, took into account a decade of geographical NYPD crime statistics and data from NYC Fitnessgram — an annual fitness assessment of students — to determine that high crime levels can increase the waistlines of adolescent girls.

For girls who were exposed to more than 20 crimes on their block, their body mass index was 7.5% higher than average.

Girls aged 14 to 18 in these high-crime blocks also experienced a 5.5% increase in the probability of being overweight.

A picture of police tape in front of a transit entrance.
The study, which was published in Health & Place journal, took into account a decade of geographical NYPD crime statistics and data from NYC Fitnessgram.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

Researchers found that violent crime has virtually no impact on obesity rates and high BMIs in boys, who showed no change in physical fitness due to neighborhood violence. Scientists theorized there could be differences in the way the two genders handle trauma.

“To the extent that parents treat boys and girls differently, or that adolescent boys and girls cope with stressful events such as neighborhood violence differently, we may also see differences by gender,” the authors wrote.

According to the study, the type of crimes that occur in a neighborhood also matters when it comes to how much it influences the health of children.

A picture of a woman with "help" written on her palm.
Girls who were exposed to more than 20 crimes on their block, would have a body mass index that is 7.5% higher than average.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

For example, property crime had little impact on the weight of neighborhood children –suggesting violence is the key health factor in girls.

“Our results suggest our findings are not driven by general neighborhood disorder but rather by the more disruptive effects of neighborhood violence,” Agustina Laurito, an assistant professor in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Illinois Chicago and lead author, wrote in the peer-reviewed study.

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