Objective: To test the hypothesis that mothers of young children would have a higher prevalence of obesity if they lived in neighborhoods that they perceived as unsafe or as having a low level of collective efficacy.
Research Methods and Procedures: Using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a cross-sectional analysis was conducted of 2445 women living in 20 large (population ≥ 200, 000) U.S. cities. BMI was measured on 72% and self-reported on 28%. Perception of neighborhood safety was assessed with the Neighborhood Environment for Children Rating Scales. The collective efficacy measure was adapted from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods.
Results: Thirty percent of the women were married, 38% lived below the U.S. poverty threshold, and 66% reported no education beyond high school. Approximately one-half of the women were non-Hispanic black, and one-fourth were Hispanic (any race). After adjustment for sociodemographic factors (household income, education, race/ethnicity, age, and marital status), smoking, depression, and television time, the prevalence of obesity (BMI ≥ 30 kg/m2) increased across tertiles of neighborhood safety from safest to least safe (37% vs. 41% vs. 46%, p = 0.004) but did not differ across tertiles of collective efficacy from highest to lowest (41% vs. 40% vs. 42%, p = 0.67).
Discussion: In a national sample of women with young children, obesity was more prevalent among those who perceived their neighborhoods to be unsafe.