Tracie Barnett



Neighborhood environment and obesity in children and adolescents: investigating nocturnal and diurnal pathways

Collaborators:  J McGrath (PIs), A Van Hulst; B Chaix; C Coté-Lussier; G Datta; ME Mathieu; M Henderson; Y Kestens
Funding: IRSC, Subvention de fonctionnement, INRS
Years: 2015-2020

Neighbourhood effects on health comprise a relatively recent area of research, with an emerging interest in the potentially obesogenic features of urban environments, such as parks and green spaces, sidewalks, and fast food restaurants. More recent research targets children and adolescents, as improving and modifying environments are thought to hold great promise for broad, upstream obesity prevention. Area-level variation in obesity is substantial: block-level prevalence of obesity in US children aged 10-17 years was estimated to vary from 3.3% to a staggering 43.7%. Although comparable Canadian data are not available, an alarming 1 in 3 Canadians aged 5 to 17 years are overweight or obese. To minimize the impact of obesity and related metabolic disorders, preventative measures are urgently needed. While it is generally accepted that physical features of neighbourhoods can influence obesity via lifestyle, notably by promoting or discouraging time spent outdoors, physical activity and healthy dietary behaviours, the empirical support to date remains unclear, especially in children. Indeed, the ‘usual suspects’ (physical inactivity, sedentary behaviour, poor diet) appear inadequate to explain the neighbourhood-obesity relation, based on traditional operationalized definitions of neighbourhoods, warranting re-consideration of (i) the methodological approach and of (ii) the conceptualized pathways. Specifically, we propose that a clear explanation for the strong association between neighbourhoods and obesity in children remains unknown largely due to exposure misclassification. Because studies typically restrict assessments to the micro-environment surrounding the residence, regardless of actual ‘exposure’, much of children’s true activity space, and the specific environmental features to which children are actually exposed, remain ignored. Moreover, journeys between locations have been shown to be as important as home and school settings in contributing to physical activity levels in adolescents. We propose to use GPS (Global Positioning System) technology to allow us to capture specific exposures within the actual spatial parameters of children’s travel routes. Thus, our first goal is to investigate the extent to which using environmental exposures extracted from the true activity space, rather than from typical residential neighbourhood definitions, yields rigorous support for the mediating role of lifestyle (physical activity, sedentary behaviour, diet) in the neighbourhood-obesity relation. Our second goal is conceptual and draws in part on evidence that clearly supports an association between shorter sleep duration and greater overweight/obesity in children and adolescents. This opens the intriguing possibility that neighbourhoods or activity spaces exert their effect on obesity, not only via daytime influences on lifestyle behaviours, but also via night-time processes. In our previous work on neighbourhood built environments and obesity, we found that living in neighbourhoods characterized by high volumes of traffic and many busy roads was the strongest determinant of obesity among all family members, regardless of other individual- and neighbourhood-level characteristics. This relation was only partially mediated by lifestyle behaviours (notably less frequent active transportation), suggesting that, from a conceptual perspective, an additional pathway(s) linking neighbourhood traffic to obesity may be implicated. However, neighbourhood exposure is not limited to the daytime hours alone; children and families sleep in the neighbourhoods in which they live. Given these findings, we postulate that one potential pathway linking neighbourhoods or activity spaces to obesity is sleep, which can be disrupted by adverse characteristics such as traffic-related and environmental noise. Further, neighbourhoods with high volumes of traffic and many busy roads tend to be characterized by greater social deprivation, social fragmentation, disorder, and perceived lack of safety, all of which may have a cumulative impact on sleep quality via increased psychosocial stress. Together, our combined conceptual and methodological goals will assess as yet unexplored explanations for the association between neighbourhoods and obesity, addressing the exposure gaps in time (day, night) and space (residential, measured activity space) that characterize the way in which this association has been investigated to date. RN. # 00262695 Where we live can influence our health and behaviours, and in particular our risk of being obese. Obesity is linked to our levels of physical activity, but it is also linked to our sleep quality and to our levels of stress. We will study the extent to which obesity in youth is related to factors that influence day time activities, (e.g. being less active due to living in less walkable neighbourhoods), or to factors predominantly related to night time circumstances (e.g. having poor quality sleep due to living near noisy streets). We will also try to better capture actual behaviours, surroundings and influences using technology such as global positioning systems, noise sensors, motion sensors and satellite images.


Linking built & social environments to pediatric obesity using a spatial environmental diagnostic & analytic laboratory

Collaborators:  –
Funding: FCI, Subvention d’infrastructure, INRS
Years: 2015-2020


Investigating the influence of neighbourhood characteristics and obesity on asthma outcomes in children and adolescents

Collaborators:  F Ducharme, G Bartlett-Esquilant, M Goldberg, Y Kestens, K Leffondré, A Smarggiassi
Funding: IRSC, Subvention de foctionnement, U Concordia
Years: 2012-2017


KT Workshop for the healthy vending machines concept

Collaborators:  A Van Hulst
Funding: Direction de la promotion de la santé du CHU Ste-Justine, financement pour organisation de colloque
Years: 2011-2012


Subvention d’établissement de jeune chercheur

Collaborators:  –
Funding: FRSQ, Subvention d’établissement de jeune chercheur
Years: 2008-2011


Investigating the role of the built environment in the development and maintenance of excess weight in a cohort of children at risk for obesity

Collaborators:  L Gauvin, M Lambert, M Daniel, Y Kestens, P Apparicio, J McGrath, A Koushik, K Gray-Donald et K Leffondre.
Funding: IRSC, Subvention de fonctionnement, CHU Sainte Justine
Years: 2008-2012


Health Promoting Vending Machines: Evaluation of a Pediatric Hospital Intervention

Collaborators:  A Van Hulst
Funding: Direction de la promotion de la santé du CHU Ste-Justine
Years: 2008-2009


Features of the Built Environment in Residential Neighbourhoods that Influence Excess Weight and Weight Related Behaviours in a Cohort of Children at Risk for Obesity

Collaborators:  L Gauvin, M Lambert, M Daniel, Y Kestens, P Apparicio, J McGrath, L Mongeau, S Brice, A Koushik, et S Pellerin
Funding: IRSC et Fondation des Maladies du Coeur du Canada et IRSC, CHU Sainte-Justine
Years: 2007-2011


Protocole: Features of the Built Environment in Residential Neighbourhoods that Influence Excess Weight and Weight-Related Behaviours in a Cohort of Children at Risk for Obesity

Collaborators:  L Gauvin, M Lambert, M Daniel, Y Kestens, P  Apparicio et J McGrath
Funding: RRDSBE
Years: 2007


Development of a methodological approch for ascertaining exposures in built and social environments among QUALITY cohort participants

Collaborators:  L Gauvin, M Lambert, M  Daniel, Y Kestens, M Lambert
Funding: CHU Ste-Justine
Years: 2007

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