Children and their caregivers in ‘low-opportunity neighborhoods’ face increased risk of early death

April 7, 2023—Children in low-opportunity neighborhoods—where employment options are few, transportation is unreliable, and crime and poverty rates are high—face an increased risk of premature death and of experiencing the premature death of a caregiver, according to a new study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The study, published March 22 in Pediatrics, was co-authored by Natalie Slopen and Jack Shonkoff, both faculty in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

The researchers assessed neighborhood opportunity using the Childhood Opportunity Index 2.0, a tool that measures the quality of neighborhoods based on 29 indicators around education, health, and social and economic context. They also looked at 11 years’ worth of health outcomes data on 1,025,000 children, from the Mortality Disparities in American Communities study.

Children in very low-opportunity neighborhoods had a risk of dying prematurely 1.3 times higher than their counterparts living in very high-opportunity neighborhoods, the study found. Similarly, children in very low-opportunity neighborhoods had a risk of experiencing the death of a caregiver 1.57 times higher than that of their counterparts in very high-opportunity neighborhoods.

Slopen, an assistant professor, discussed the findings on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Pediatrics On Call Podcast, pointing out the role of racial residential segregation and calling for long-term, tailored investments in low-opportunity neighborhoods.

“We believe our results make the case that place-based initiatives are urgent for advancing towards health equity, particularly when we’re thinking about children. And we believe our results point to the importance of having an intergenerational approach,” she said. “Investments within neighborhoods are investments within the next generation and this matters both for children’s health and for the health of their caregivers. We want all children to have access to opportunities for the best development possible.”

Read coverage of the study in HealthDay: Child, Caregiver Mortality Up in Low-Opportunity Neighborhoods

Listen to Slopen’s interview on the Pediatrics On Call Podcast: Communicating Outside the Exam Room, How Neighborhoods Affect Health – Episode 152