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Open Access Research

Defining neighborhood boundaries in studies of spatial dependence in child behavior problems

Margaret O’Brien Caughy1*, Tammy Leonard2, Kurt Beron2 and James Murdoch2

Author Affiliations

1 University of Texas School of Public Health, Dallas Regional Campus, 5323 Harry Hines Blvd, BL10.204, Dallas, TX, 75390-9655, USA

2 University of Texas at Dallas, Department of Economics, School of Economics, Political & Policy Sciences, 800 West Campbell Road, GR31, Richardson, TX, 75080-3021, USA

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International Journal of Health Geographics 2013, 12:24  doi:10.1186/1476-072X-12-24

Published: 3 May 2013

Abstract

Background

The purpose of this study was to extend the analysis of neighborhood effects on child behavioral outcomes in two ways: (1) by examining the geographic extent of the relationship between child behavior and neighborhood physical conditions independent of standard administrative boundaries such as census tracts or block groups and (2) by examining the relationship and geographic extent of geographic peers’ behavior and individual child behavior.

Methods

The study neighborhood was a low income, ethnic minority neighborhood of approximately 20,000 residents in a large city in the southwestern United States. Observational data were collected for 11,552 parcels and 1,778 face blocks in the neighborhood over a five week period. Data on child behavior problems were collected from the parents of 261 school-age children (81% African American, 14% Latino) living in the neighborhood. Spatial analysis methods were used to examine the spatial dependence of child behavior problems in relation to physical conditions in the neighborhood for areas surrounding the child’s home ranging from a radius of 50 meters to a radius of 1000 meters. Likewise, the spatial dependence of child behavior problems in relation to the behavior problems of neighborhood peers was examined for areas ranging from a radius 255 meters to a radius of 600 meters around the child’s home. Finally, we examined the joint influence of neighborhood physical conditions and geographic peers.

Results

Poor conditions of the physical environment of the neighborhood were related to more behavioral problems, and the geographic extent of the physical environment that mattered was an area with a radius between 400 and 800 meters surrounding the child’s home. In addition, the average level of behavior problems of neighborhood peers within 255 meters of the child’s home was also positively associated with child behavior problems. Furthermore, these effects were independent of one another.

Conclusions

These findings demonstrate that using flexible geographies in the study of neighborhood effects can provide important insights into spatial influences on health outcomes. With regards to child behavioral outcomes, specifically, these findings support the importance of addressing the physical and social environment when planning community-level interventions to reduce child behavior problems.

Keywords:
Neighborhood; Child behavior problems; Peer relationships