Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Adolescents’ neighborhood factors on have small effect on later heart disease

Jason Fletcher Jason Fletcher

Differences in the qualities of adolescents’ neighborhoods do not appear to have much effect on whether they have heart disease, are obese or have depression as adults, new research from La Follette School professor Jason Fletcher shows.

The journal Health Affairs in its September issue published the research by Fletcher and Stephen M. McLaughlin, a Ph.D. candidate in health policy and management at Yale University.

They extended the analysis of earlier studies that examined the importance of a child’s neighborhood in determining education attainment into the domain of adult health outcomes. “Our purpose was to estimate the likely importance of adolescents’ neighborhoods on adult health outcomes, as opposed to understanding the sources of neighborhood effects, sources such as poverty, the built environment and expose to crime,” Fletcher says.

The authors calculated statistical associations in health outcomes during adulthood between pairs of individuals who attended the same middle or high school, and they compared health outcomes during young adulthood for siblings in the sample.

“For example, we found that interventions that completely equalized adolescent neighborhood environmental factors related to later heart disease would not affect at least 95 percent of the variation in cardiovascular risk,” Fletcher says.

Overall, he adds, family processes (including genetic factors) likely are a major force in determining outcomes of adult obesity and depression, and the effects of neighborhood and school attended likely are small. “For adult heart disease, we found that neighborhood has a larger, but still modest, role,” Fletcher says.

“These findings can help policymakers gain a sense of which kinds of neighborhood interventions are likely to be most effective in improving long-range health outcomes,” Fletcher adds.