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The Built Environment and Collective Efficacy

Collective efficacy, i.e., perception of mutual trust and willingness to help each other, is a measure of neighborhood social capital and has been associated with positive health outcomes including lower rates of assaults, homicide, premature mortality, and asthma. Collective efficacy is frequently considered a “cause”, but we hypothesized that environmental features might be the foundation for or the etiology of personal reports of neighborhood collective efficacy. We analyzed data from the Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Study (LAFANS) together with geographical data from Los Angeles County to determine which social and environmental features were associated with personal reports of collective efficacy, including presence of parks, alcohol outlets, elementary schools and fast food outlets. We used multi-level modeling controlling for age, education,
annual family income, sex, marital status, employment and race/ethnicity at the individual level. At the tract level, we controlled for tract-level disadvantage, the number of off-sale alcohol outlets per roadway mile, the number of parks and the number of fast food outlets within the tract and within 1/2 mile of the tract’s boundaries. We found that parks were independently and positively associated with collective efficacy; alcohol outlets were negatively associated with collective efficacy only when tract-level disadvantage was not included in the model. Fast food outlets and elementary schools were not linearly related to collective efficacy. Certain environmental features may set the stage for neighborhood social interactions, thus serving as a foundation for underlying health and well-being. Altering these environmental features may have greater than expected impact on health.   


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