Current knowledge regarding the relationship between segregation and body weight is derived mainly from cross-sectional data. Longitudinal studies are needed to provide stronger causal inference.
We use longitudinal data from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis and apply an econometric fixed-effect strategy, which accounts for all time-invariant confounders, and compare results to conventional cross-sectional analyses. We examine the relationship between neighborhood-level racial/ethnic segregation, neighborhood poverty, and body mass index (BMI) separately for blacks, Hispanics, and whites. Segregation*gender interactions are included in all models. Neighborhood segregation was operationalized by the local Gi* statistic, which assesses the extent to which a neighborhood’s racial/ethnic composition is under (Gi* statistic < 0) or over (Gi* statistic > 0) represented, given the composition in the broader (e.g., county) area. For black, Hispanic, and white stratified models, the Gi* statistic reflects the level of black, Hispanic, and white segregation, respectively. The Gi* statistic was scaled such that a unit change represents a 1.96 difference in the score.
Cross-sectional models indicated higher segregation to be negatively associated with BMI for white females and positively associated for Hispanic females. No association was found for black females or males in general. In contrast, fixed-effect models adjusting for neighborhood poverty, higher segregation was positively associated with BMI for black females (coeff = 0.25 kg/m2; 95% CI = [0.03, 0.46]; p-value = 0.03) but negatively associated for Hispanic females (coeff = −0.17 kg/m2; 95% CI = [−0.33, −0.01]; p-value = 0.04) and Hispanic males (coeff = −0.20; 95% CI = [−0.39, −0.01]; p-value = 0.04). Further controls for socioeconomic factors fully explained the associations for Hispanics but not for black females.
Fixed-effect results suggest that segregation’s impacts might not be universally harmful, with possible null or beneficial impacts, depending on race/ethnicity. The persistent associations after accounting for neighborhood poverty indicate that the segregation–BMI link may operate through different pathways other than neighborhood poverty.
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This research was supported by contracts N01-HC-95159, N01-HC-95160, N01-HC-95161, N01-HC-95162, N01-HC-95163, N01-HC-95164, N01-HC-95165, N01-HC-95166, N01-HC-95167, N01-HC-95168, and N01-HC-95169 from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, by grants UL1-TR-000040 and UL1-TR-001079 from NCRR, by grant R01 HL071759 from National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health, and by grant P60 MD002249 from National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.