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The literature on neighborhoods and child obesity links contextual conditions to risk, assuming that if place matters, it matters in a similar way for everyone in those places. We explore the extent to which distinctive neighborhood types give rise to social patterning that produces variation in the odds of child obesity. We leverage geocoded electronic medical records for a diverse sample of over 135,000 children aged 2 to 12 and latent profile modeling to characterize places into distinctive neighborhood contexts. Multilevel models with cross-level interactions between neighborhood type and family socioeconomic standing (SES) reveal that children with different SES, but living in the same neighborhoods, have different odds of obesity. Specifically, we find lower-SES children benefit, but to a lesser degree, from neighborhood advantages and higher-SES children are negatively influenced, to a larger degree, by neighborhood disadvantages. The resulting narrowing of the gap in obesity by neighborhood disadvantage helps clarify how place matters for children’s odds of obesity and suggests that efforts to improve access to community advantages as well as efforts to address community disadvantages are important to curbing obesity and improving the health of all children.


This is a pre-copy-editing, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in Population Research and Policy Review, volume 28, issue 3, in 2019 following peer review. The final publication is available at Springer via DOI: 10.1007/s11113-018-9504-2.

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