High levels of disadvantage affect ability amongst younger people

A new study from Penn LDI finds that structural inequities produce significant disparities in community health, and that addressing concentrated disadvantage could meaningfully improve health outcomes.

Research has established that people who live in communities with high rates of poverty, unemployment, and other forms of social disinvestment are more likely to suffer from poor mental, physical, and behavioral health outcomes. Furthermore, such socioeconomic disadvantage does not occur at random but rather results from historical and contemporary policies and practices rooted in structural and institutional racism.

A crumbling house in an impoverished neighborhood.
Image: Matt Gush for Adobe Stock

Still, while neighborhood socioeconomic disadvantage is an established driver of health inequities, many questions remain. “Less is known about how neighborhood conditions shape functional disability risks among younger people, including children, adolescents, and young adults. This is important from a policy and intervention perspective, as this type of research can inform efforts to prevent the onset of functional impairments,” says LDI senior fellow and assistant professor of sociology in Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences Courtney Boen.

Boen coauthored a new study, “Concentrated Disadvantage and Functional Disability: A Longitudinal Neighbourhood Analysis in 100 US Cities,” published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, that further explores the connection between health, particularly functional disability, and concentrated disadvantage—which combines many factors including: the percentage of families living below the poverty line, the percentage of the population that is unemployed, and the percentage of female-headed households.

The investigators examined how neighborhood disadvantage related to functional disability using a longitudinal dataset of almost 16,000 neighborhoods. They used four measures to define functional disability: cognitive disability, such as difficulties concentrating or making decisions; ambulatory disability, such as serious difficulty walking; independent living difficulty, such as challenges with visiting the doctor; and difficulty in self care, including challenges with bathing or dressing oneself.

They found that the relationship varied with age and sex. The link between concentrated neighborhood disadvantage and functional disability was most apparent among male individuals ranging widely in age from 5 to 64 years old. The link was also apparent among 5-to 17-year-old girls and 35- to 64-year-old women—although at a lower magnitude.

The study findings indicate that addressing concentrated disadvantage could meaningfully improve health outcomes, particularly regarding functional disability, in the United States.

This story is by Kaday Kamara. Read more at Penn LDI.