Why the Neighborhood Social Environment Is Critical in Obesity Prevention

Shakira F. Suglia, Rachel C. Shelton, Amber Hsiao, Y. Claire Wang, Andrew Rundle, Bruce G. Link

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorial

139 Scopus citations


The continuing obesity epidemic in the USA calls for the examination of antecedents to the well-known risk factors of physical activity and diet. The neighborhood built environment has been extensively studied in relation to obesity noting an increased risk of development and prevalence of obesity in relation to numerous built environment characteristics (lack of green spaces, higher number of fast food restaurants, low walkability indices). The neighborhood social environment, however, has been less extensively studied but is perhaps an equally important component of the neighborhood environment. The neighborhood social environment, particularly constructs of social capital, collective efficacy, and crime, is associated with obesity among both adults and children. Several studies have identified physical activity as a potential pathway of the neighborhood social environment and obesity association. Further work on social networks and norms and residential segregation, as well as the examination of dietary behaviors and mental health as potential mediating pathways, is necessary. Given the existing evidence, intervening on the neighborhood social environment may prove to be an effective target for the prevention on obesity. Intervention studies that promote healthy behaviors and prevent obesity while addressing aspects of the neighborhood social environment are necessary to better identify targets for obesity prevention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)206-212
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Urban Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Neighborhood disadvantage
  • Neighborhood safety
  • Obesogenic behaviors
  • Physical activity
  • Residential segregation
  • Social capital
  • Social cohesion


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