Built and socioeconomic neighbourhood environments and overweight in preschool aged children. A multilevel study to disentangle individual and contextual relationships

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Structural factors of neighbourhood environments in which children live have attracted increasing attention in epidemiological research. This study investigated whether neighbourhood socioeconomic position (SEP), public playground and park space, and perceived environmental exposures were independently associated with overweight in preschool aged children while simultaneously considering individual child and family factors.


Body-Mass-Index (BMI) data from 3499 children (53% boys and 47% girls) from three surveys between 2004 and 2007 from 18 school enrolment zones in the city of Munich, Germany, were analysed with hierarchical logistic regression models. An index of neighbourhood SEP was calculated with principal component analysis. Individual socioeconomic data, parental BMI, birth weight, housing characteristics, and perceived annoyance due to exposures to noise, air pollution, lack of greenspace, and traffic were collected with parental questionnaires. Measures of age-specific playground space and availability of park space derived from Geographic Information System were additionally weighted with age-specific population data.


In bivariate analysis perceived annoyance due to exposures to noise or lack of greenspace, high frequency of lorries, traffic jam, living in a multiple dwelling or next to a main road, low neighbourhood SEP, and low playground space were significantly associated with overweight. However, in multivariate analysis only living in a multiple dwelling was independently associated with overweight. From the considered individual child and family factors low parental education, parental overweight or obesity, and a high birthweight showed an independent relation to overweight.


Our study identified individual child and parental factors, and living in a multiple dwelling as the strongest predictors for overweight in preschool aged children. However, perceived annoyance to built environmental exposures additionally explained overweight variance between neighbourhoods. Based on our findings interventions and policies addressing overweight prevention in young children should focus on parental behaviours and the immediate home environment.

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