Overweight and obesity are risk factors for a range of health problems. The prevalence of overweight and obesity has been steadily rising among every segment of the U.S. population. In searching for factors driving the obesity epidemic, the overweight/obesity research is now focused on the balance between diet and physical activity (PA). To address the obesity epidemic, researchers have begun to explore the wider contextual determinants of obesity-related outcomes in hope of identifying new approaches to promoting PA and curbing the rising tide of obesity. This study attempts to contribute to the literature by examining the extent to which neighborhood built environments and socio-demographic contexts influence individual PA and weight status in the United States. To guide this investigation, we employ the social cognitive theory and ecological models and use multiple data sources including the 2000 Census data, GIS-based data from various sources, other place-based aggregate data, and continuous NHANES from 1999 to 2008. We ask: 1) How do contextual built environmental and socio-demographic factors affect objectively and subjectively measured PA and weight status over and above individual characteristics? 2) What are the interacting and mediating effects among contextual built environmental and socio-demographic factors in their impacts on PA and weight status? Are these observed contextual effects partly mediated by individual psychosocial pathways? 3) How do neighborhood factors interact with individual factors to impact PA and weight status? 4) How are the above relationships sensitive to geographic aggregation methods of local neighborhoods? 5) How does spatial dependency among local neighborhoods affect the observed patterns produced from the above analysis? This project goes beyond current research in five ways. First, it examines a wider range of place-based contextual features at both tract- and county-levels. Second, it is a national study covering the entire U.S. Third, it examines both self-reports and objective assessments of PA and weight status. Fourth, it provides a unique opportunity to examine interactions across a number of levels (e.g., individual- neighborhood, neighborhood-county). Fifth, it tests under-studied hypotheses in this literature such as the Modifiable Areal Unit Problem and the spatial dependency issues. This project combines perspectives from sociology, urban planning, geography, and spatial epidemiology;it bridges these disciplines to formulate research that addresses a set of questions vital to research on environmental determinants of PA and weight status.

Public Health Relevance

This study examines how geographic and contextual factors at census tract level and county level are associated with individual-level physical activity and body weight in a national sample. Both the built environments and socio-demographic contexts will be considered. Given the rising tide of the obesity epidemic in the United States, research, strategies and programs for weight maintenance and weight reduction have become a high public health priority in the recent decade.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Cancer Institute (NCI)
Research Project (R01)
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Study Section
Psychosocial Risk and Disease Prevention Study Section (PRDP)
Program Officer
Berrigan, David
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University of Utah
Social Sciences
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Salt Lake City
United States
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Wen, Ming; Su, Dejun (2015) Correlates of Leisure-Time Physical Activity Participation Among Latino Children and Adolescents with Acanthosis Nigricans. J Immigr Minor Health 17:1330-6
Fan, Jessie X; Wen, Ming; Kowaleski-Jones, Lori (2015) Sociodemographic and environmental correlates of active commuting in rural America. J Rural Health 31:176-85
Li, Kelin; Wen, Ming; Henry, Kevin A (2014) Residential racial composition and black-white obesity risks: differential effects of neighborhood social and built environment. Int J Environ Res Public Health 11:626-42
Fan, Jessie X; Wen, Ming; Kowaleski-Jones, Lori (2014) An ecological analysis of environmental correlates of active commuting in urban U.S. Health Place 30:242-50
Wen, Ming; Li, Lifeng; Su, Dejun (2014) Physical activity and mortality among middle-aged and older adults in the United States. J Phys Act Health 11:303-12
Wen, Ming; Maloney, Thomas N (2014) Neighborhood socioeconomic status and BMI differences by immigrant and legal status: Evidence from Utah. Econ Hum Biol 12:120-31
Fan, Jessie X; Wen, Ming; Kowaleski-Jones, Lori (2014) Rural-urban differences in objective and subjective measures of physical activity: findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2003-2006. Prev Chronic Dis 11:E141
Wang, Fahui; Wen, Ming; Xu, Yanqing (2013) Population-Adjusted Street Connectivity, Urbanicity and Risk of Obesity in the U.S. Appl Geogr 41:1-14
Kowaleski-Jones, Lori; Wen, Ming (2013) Community and child energy balance: differential associations between neighborhood environment and overweight risk by gender. Int J Environ Health Res 23:434-45
Li, Kelin; Wen, Ming (2013) Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Leisure-time Physical Activity in California: Patterns and Mechanisms. Race Soc Probl 5:147-156

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