Research News

Using Mobility Data to Track Health-Risk Factors

IPR associate Brian Mustanski launches examination of genes and neighborhoods

mobile housing
Some participants in the GENI study moved into affordable housing units like this one in Mobile, Ala.

A neighborhood’s makeup can have a large impact on its adolescent residents—a violent one is associated with more adolescent problem behaviors, while a neighborhood offering more supports correlates with fewer of these behaviors.

In a recent working paper, professor of medical social sciences and IPR associate Brian Mustanski and his colleagues capitalize on a natural experiment in which families moved from public housing tracts in Mobile, Ala., to more advantaged neighborhoods under the HOPE VI federal relocation program. The longitudinal data from this experiment will inform the National Institutes of Health’s Genes, Environment, Neighborhood Initiative (GENI) study, led by Mustanski.

Brian Mustanski

GENI investigates the interplay between environments (neighborhoods) and genetic factors, pointing to how a cluster of HIV risk factors—sexual risk taking, substance use, and conduct problems—might affect African American youth. The study also adds to previous IPR research on housing and mobility programs, including a substantial body of work on the Gautreaux and Moving to Opportunity programs and Section 8 housing vouchers.

Mustanski and his fellow researchers analyzed interviews of individuals in HOPE VI and the control group in which they discussed their neighborhood environments before and after their relocation. The researchers also drew on U.S. Census data to catalog each neighborhood based on indicators of socioeconomic status, such as the numbers of unemployed and college graduates, in addition to racial makeup and residential stability.

The resulting data confirm the underlying assumptions of the GENI study: Youth and their neighborhoods were similar in both the experimental and control groups before the HOPE VI families relocated, and HOPE VI families relocated to improved neighborhoods.

These preliminary results will enable Mustanski and his colleagues to compare neighborhood effects across both groups for the GENI study.

“It will be informative to examine whether there are differences in health and well-being between the HOPE VI and control groups and what factors may be mediating or moderating these differences,” the researchers wrote.

Brian Mustanski is an associate professor in medical social sciences and an IPR associate. The working paper, “Patterns of Neighborhood Relocation in a Longitudinal HOPE VI Natural Experiment: The Genes, Environment, and Neighborhood Initiative (GENI) Study,” can be found on IPR’s website.

Photo credit: Annie Fedorowicz