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Living near foreclosed homes may raise risk of being overweight

August 12, 2013 — People who live near foreclosed homes may be at greater risk of being overweight than those who don’t have such homes in their immediate neighborhoods, according to a new study by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers.

The study was published online July 18, 2013 in the American Journal of Public Health and will appear in the September 2013 print edition.

“Millions of homes went into foreclosure during the Great Recession, and housing markets in many areas of the country are still struggling to recover. People living next door to foreclosed properties have been hit hard by the housing crisis; their homes may have lost value, and blighted houses on the block make many people feel less safe,” said lead author Mariana Arcaya, SD ’13, research scientist in the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies. “While our study wasn’t designed to pinpoint the mechanisms by which foreclosures put neighbors at risk of weight gain, previous research tells us that eating and drinking more are common reactions to stress, and that dangerous blocks may discourage physical activity.”

Arcaya and her colleagues analyzed housing and medical data from 2,078 study participants in Massachusetts from 1987-2008. They looked at foreclosure records as well as participants’ proximity to foreclosed homes and their body mass index (BMI) levels. They found that living within 100 meters of a foreclosed home significantly increased the likelihood of having a higher BMI. Living near foreclosed homes was also associated with higher odds of being overweight.

“Clinicians working with patients in neighborhoods hard-hit by the recent housing crisis should be aware of the potential stressors associated with localized foreclosure activity, including perceived loss of wealth, friends moving away, visible trash accumulation, overgrown lawns and perceived danger, among others,” the researchers wrote in the study. “Policymakers at the state and federal levels, community development corporations, lenders, housing planners and municipal officials should likewise take such effects into account when making housing-related decisions.”

Senior author of the study is S V Subramanian, professor of population health and geography in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at HSPH. Other Harvard researchers who participated in the study include Maria Glymour, adjunct assistant professor of social and behavioral sciences, HSPH; Ichiro Kawachi, chair, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and professor of social epidemiology; and Nicholas Christakis, professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School.

Read the APHA press release

Marge Dwyer

Photo: iStockphoto/Lorraine Boogich

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Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies
Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences