Community Ties

Strong community cohesiveness may help children from poor families avoid the risk of developing health problems

(RxWiki News) Although past research has shown that children who grow up poor have an increased risk of developing health problems as adults, a new study has found that there is a good way to counter this.

Led by Gary W. Evans, Cornell University researchers found that poor adolescents from communities with more social capital (the degree of community cohesiveness and control) were less likely to smoke and be obese than those from communities with less social capital.

For the purpose of this study, Evans and colleagues used information gathered from an ongoing survey of poor and middle-income families from Upstate New York. In order to determine the social capital of communities, the researchers asked, for example, if parents thought their neighbors would do something if they saw someone trying to sell drugs to children or youth. They also asked adolescents if they knew adults they could go to for advice.

The adolescent participants answered surveys pertaining to behavior, such as smoking habits. Their height and weight was also measured.

As previous studies have shown, adolescents from poor families were more likely than those from middle-income families to smoke and to be overweight or obese. However, results also showed that stronger community ties provided poor adolescents with a degree of protection. Poor adolescents from communities with more social capital were less likely to smoke or to be overweight.

It appears as though cohesive communities may help to prevent some of the negative health impacts of poverty. Be that as it may, children from poor families still have it worse than their middle-class counterparts. They still have an increased risk of developing health problems as adults.

With more than two-thirds of American adults classified as obese or overweight, these findings offer a way to help curb that growing statistic.

The study is published in Psychological Science.

Review Date: 
February 2, 2011