Explaining educational disparities in adiposity: The role of neighbourhood environments (#44)
Background: Obesity is socioeconomically patterned in developed countries, with low socioeconomic position (SEP) individuals at greater risk of being overweight and obese; however, the mechanisms by which this occurs are not well understood. One possibility is that persons of low SEP have less opportunity (e.g., financially) to live in neighbourhoods supportive of exercise and healthy eating, and are consequently more likely to be of unhealthy weight. The present study examined whether the neighbourhood physical environment played an explanatory role in the greater adiposity of less educated women, compared to those with higher educational qualifications.
Methods: A cohort of 1,819 women from the Melbourne SESAW study provided information regarding their body mass index (BMI) and level of education; objective measures of participants’ home neighbourhood environments were obtained using a Geographic Information System (GIS).
Results: Compared to women with high levels of education, women with less education had higher average BMI, which was partially explained by lower density of sports facilities, supermarkets and green grocers, and worse proximity to coastlines and supermarkets among less educated women. In a multiple mediator model, which explained 17.7% of the low-high education difference in BMI, the number of sports facilities and presence of a coastline within 2km of participants’ homes were both significant mediators of the observed sociodemographic disparity in BMI.
Conclusions: These findings indicate that the neighbourhood physical environment may help explain the socioeconomic patterning of overweight and obesity. Specifically, women with low levels of education appear to live in more obesogenic environments with poorer access to places in which to exercise or purchase a wide range of healthy foods, which may foster greater obesity risk. Improving the availability of physical activity and sport facilities in particular should be considered as part of public health initiatives aimed at reducing obesity risk among low SEP women.