Living in a connected community may protect poor teens from health risks such as smoking or obesity, researchers have found.
In a study of low-income and middle-income families, Cornell University researchers asked 17-year-olds and their mothers to provide information about social capital, which is a measure of how connected their community is and the degree of social control.
For example, the mothers answered a question regarding whether one of their neighbors would do something if they saw someone trying to sell drugs to a child or youth, and the teens responded to a question about whether there were adults they could go to for advice, explained the researchers.
The teens also provided information on their health behaviors, such as smoking, and had their height and weight measured to determine their body-mass index (BMI).
Compared to middle-class teens, poor teens were more likely to smoke and have a higher BMI. But poor teens who had more social capital were less likely to smoke and tended to have lower BMIs than those with less social capital, according to the report published in the January issue of the journal Psychological Science.
Previous research has shown that children who grow up in poverty are more likely to have health problems as adults.
“You may be able to loosen those connections between early childhood poverty and negative health outcomes if you live in a community with good social resources,” lead author Gary W. Evans said in a news release from the Association for Psychological Science.