A new study shows that living in a neighbourhood of socioeconomic disadvantage is a risk factor for adverse weight development in children under school age. Researchers studied the connection between neighbourhoods’ socioeconomic status and children’s weight development from data covering over 11,000 Finnish children.

A new study conducted at the University of Turku, Finland, examined the association between the neighbourhood socioeconomic disadvantage, the development of children’s body mass index, and the risk of overweight from birth to school age. The children’s growth data was acquired from a national register of well-baby clinics.

Information on the socioeconomic status of the neighbourhood was linked to the participants with address co-ordinates using the national grid database of Statistics Finland. The socioeconomic status of the neighbourhood was measured with education level, household income, and unemployment rate.

The results were independent of the education level, economic situation, marital status and health of the children’s parents, says lead author, Docent Hanna Lagström from the Department of Public Health of the University of Turku.

Living in a less prosperous neighbourhood posed a major risk for children to develop overweight by school age in the population-based data, even when the researchers considered factors that can increase the risk of overweight in childhood.

These included e.g. mother’s type 2 diabetes, mother’s smoking, and child’s high birth weight.

In neighbourhoods with a higher socioeconomic status, children weighed more at birth, but their weight development stabilised by the age of four.

This could implicate that neighbourhoods can offer very different types of development environments for children, and that the risk of being overweight grows before school age in neighbourhoods with lower socio-economic status.

The results of the research are an important factor to take into consideration, particularly for city planning, to ensure that inequality is prevented from the childhood, says Lagström.

The study was based on 2008-2010 data from the Southwest Finland Birth Cohort (SFBC). The Birth Cohort consists of all children born in the Hospital District of Southwest Finland during those three years. In this study, the participants consisted of the first children born to the mothers during this this time.