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Perceived neighborhood safety linked to overweight status among urban adolescents

Tuesday, September 03, 2013 by: Kelsey Radwick
Tags: safety, obesity, neighborhoods

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(NaturalNews) Adolescent overweight is a major public health concern because of the immediate and long-term health risks. Many overweight adolescents suffer from hypertension, Type II diabetes, and asthma. As they grow into adulthood, many develop coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, different cancers, and other chronic illnesses that contribute to poor quality of life and high mortality rates.

In an effort to combat the overweight epidemic among youths, increased attention has been paid to the social and environmental mechanisms that may contribute to being overweight. Neighborhood safety or perceived neighborhood safety is one such important factor since it is theorized that fear of violence and crime is a barrier to physical activity and a facilitator of sedentary behavior. When adolescents feel unsafe in their neighborhood, they are less likely to engage in outdoor, physical activity (e.g. walking and playing sports) and are more likely to use non-ambulatory transportation options (e.g. buses and cars). Without the option of playing outside, many adolescents resort to watching television, playing computer and video games, or other sedentary activities.

Another reason living in unsafe neighborhoods or having the perception of living in an unsafe neighborhood might contribute to adolescent overweight is because of increased chronic stress. Higher chronic stress levels cause specific biochemical reactions in the body that lead to weight gain. First, it causes the body to release excess cortisol, a hormone critical in managing fat storage and energy use in the body, and which is known to increase appetite and food cravings. Second, people under chronic stress are more likely to reach for fatty comfort foods because eating these carbohydrates increases the body's serotonin level. And third, some studies indicate that the body processes food differently under stress because it can cause a molecule called Neuropeptide Y to be released, which encourages fat accumulation. Each of these may contribute to why a statistically significant number of overweight adolescents also feel unsafe in their neighborhoods.

The links between perceived safety and obesity underscore the importance of policy-level overweight prevention strategies that reduce neighborhood safety concerns. One effective policy intervention would involve changes in the physical environment of a neighborhood. Some possible improvements include introducing well-maintained parks and neighborhood landscaping, sporting facilities, improved street lighting, sidewalks, better traffic control, and more. It would also mean increased efforts to pick up litter, clean graffiti, and repair vandalized infrastructure.

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About the author:
My name is Kelsey Radwick, and I am a native of the beautiful city of Seattle, Washington. I am just another health nut who loves her hearty salads, grass-fed meats, and healthy homemade ice creams. I recently assisted with the compilation of the popular Ebook "Paleo Ice Cream: 31 Healthy Recipes For The Primal Sweet Tooth," which can be found at www.paleoicecreamrecipes.com.

To learn more about me and my interests beyond health and wellness, please visit my website at www.kelseyradwick.com.

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