Examining childhood obesity and the environment of a segregated, lower-income US suburb

Martine Hackett (Assistant professor, Department of Health Professions, Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York, USA)
Clara Gillens- Eromosele (Executive Director, Roosevelt Community Revitalization Group, Roosevelt, New York, USA)
Jacob Dixon (Choice for All, Roosevelt, New York, USA)

International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare

ISSN: 2056-4902

Publication date: 21 December 2015



The contribution of the built environment within communities plays a significant role in the higher rates of childhood obesity, particularly among black and Hispanic youth. The purpose of this paper is to investigate neighborhood assets and barriers to nutrition and physical activity in an underserved, majority-minority suburban community in New York State, USA using Photovoice, a community-based participatory research method.


Nine local youth took photographs to visually identify the community’s environmental assets and barriers. Through an extensive review and selection of photos and group discussion themes were identified. Final results of the Photovoice project were presented to local policy makers and community members for action.


Participants provided complex and insightful perspectives of health inequalities in the suburbs, including limited access to fresh, healthy food, and safe spaces for physical activity. They also understood that improving nutrition and physical activity practices required policy changes and civic engagement.

Research limitations/implications

This study represented one suburban area of New York, and is not meant to be representative of all suburban areas. However, the findings of environmental barriers to childhood obesity are similar to those found in urban areas, suggesting similarities in low-income communities of color.

Social implications

This study suggests that Photovoice is an effective way of collaborating between various community stakeholders (particularly youth) in an underserved suburb that can result in community changes.


Besides achieving all three Photovoice goals – recording and reflection, dialogue, and reaching policymakers – the Photovoice project identified a long-standing environmental hazard as a result of the partnerships established between the youth, academic institution, community-based organizations, and residents. This study also identified factors in the built environment that contribute to health disparities in a racially segregated suburban community.



Hackett, M., Gillens- Eromosele, C. and Dixon, J. (2015), "Examining childhood obesity and the environment of a segregated, lower-income US suburb", International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare, Vol. 8 No. 4, pp. 247-259. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJHRH-09-2014-0021

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