Project Overview

The overall goals of this integrated project are to:

  1. Study the influence of economic, lifestyle, and social factors on obesity.
  2. Provide an extensive outreach program that will use the findings from our research to inform both policy makers and households of which policies, programs, and practices are effective at combating obesity.

The main goal of the research component is to provide a comprehensive empirical examination of the influences of economic, lifestyle, and social factors on obesity. In particular, this research proposes to combine detailed individual-level data with extensive regional economic and environmental data. The individual-level data include information on height, weight, food consumption and physical activity behaviors, in addition to a rich set of controls for sex, age, race/ethnicity, and other personal and household characteristics. These data are to be combined with information on food and fast food prices, local area food store, eating places and physical activity-related outlet density measures, and area crime data. In doing so, this project is the first study on child, youth, and adult populations to explore the relationship between obesity and key economic factors such as cost and access measures, and social factors such as safety controlling for other household and individual characteristics. Most notably, the importance of economic and social factors will be examined directly on measures of body mass index (BMI) and obesity and indirectly on BMI and obesity via their effect on intermediary behaviors related to food consumption (FC) and physical activity (PA) behaviors.

By drawing on several data sets that contain detailed information on types of income sources, this study will permit us to examine the importance of household income controlling for cost and access measures. We will examine the importance of earned versus unearned (non-welfare) income sources since earned income may be associated with increased time allocated to potentially sedentary work with less time available for leisure time physical activity. And, among low-income populations, we will examine how alternative sources of income and support (welfare, food stamps, etc.) are associated with FC patterns, PA and obesity. We will also assess the extent to which households from different socio-economic strata are differentially affected by cost and access. Given that low-income households spend a higher proportion of household expenditures on food, we expect these households to be differentially affected by food prices and costs related to accessing healthy foods. To shed further light on the documented differences in FC patterns, PA levels and obesity rates found to exist across different minority and income groups, our analyses will assess how the key factors may differentially influence different sub-populations across racial, income and education categories.

Specifically, this project aims to address several research questions:

  1. Economic influences: examine the relationship between obesity and a) prices of food and fast food; b) availability and accessibility as measured by local area food store and fast food/restaurant outlet density and physical activity-related outlet density measures; c) household income; and, d) assistance programs, including welfare support, food stamps, and other food assistance programs.
  2. Lifestyle influences: in addition to studying the relationship between economic factors and obesity, this study will also examine the impact of these factors on FC and PA patterns and, in turn, will examine the influence of the following lifestyle factors on obesity: a) FC patterns (i.e., food groups and nutrient intakes such as fruit and vegetables, etc. and total energy intake measures); b) PA patterns (i.e. vigorous activity, light activity, sports teams, and physical education); c) sedentary behaviors (i.e. TV watching and computer use); and, d) attitudes toward food and health.
  3. Social influences: examine the relationship between adult obesity and community neighborhood safety controlling for economic influences.
    To address these research questions, it is necessary to link external data by confidential geocode match files to the individual-level survey data. We will augment several individual-level data sets with external information on food prices, food (grocery store and eating places) and physical activity-related outlet density measures, and area crime data to examine outcomes related to FC, PA, BMI and obesity.

The outreach component of this project will disseminate our research findings in order to

  1. Inform policy makers of what policies and/or programs/practices are effective at combating obesity.
  2. Provide health professionals, government officials and parents with useful tools to help address this growing problem.

We plan to develop a web-based resource that will allow visitors access to a wide-range of obesity-related material including, but not limited to: our relevant publications and projects, policy briefs, fact sheets, and, tool kits. Furthermore, we plan to develop an electronic listserv that will provide interested parties with notification and a brief description of newly posted web material. The listserv will also provide a venue whereby interested parties can share ideas and information related to research findings and other posted materials.