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Assessing Individuals’ Exposure to Environmental Conditions Using Residence-Based Measures, Activity Location-Based Measures, and Activity Path-Based Measures

November 2018

Many researchers and policymakers are interested in how geographic closeness to alcohol outlets affects underage drinking rates. The relationship has not been very clear because different research studies measure the concept differently. For example, some measures track how close adolescents’ home is from outlets. Others track the locations of adolescents’ common activities to see how close those locations are to alcohol outlets.  And still others measure the path adolescents take among their residence and their activities.

In a new study by the Prevention Research Center of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, all 3 of these measures were compared to each other.  Study authors GPS-tracked 231 San Francisco Bay Area adolescents from 14 to 16 years old for 4 weeks in 2015 and 2016.  Study participants were texted 6 times per week about their activities and their alcohol consumption.

The result was that each measurement approach yielded very different kinds of conclusions. Some of the residence-based measures (such as census tracts), none of the activity location-based approaches, and most of the activity path-based approaches (such as closeness of adolescents to outlets per hour) were associated with alcohol consumption.

The authors conclude that this type of research is challenging.  Because the measure that is used affect results a great deal, researchers need to be very careful when they study the relationship between outlet location and adolescents’ consumption of alcohol.

Says lead author, Christopher Morrison: “We know that neighborhoods can affect people’s health. This study shows that the way we link neighborhoods to people matters a great deal and can affect the study results.”

Source:  Morrison, Christopher N., Hilary F. Byrnes, Brenda A. Miller, Emily Kaner, Sarah EWiehe, William R. Ponicki, and Douglas J. Wiebe. "Assessing Individuals’ Exposure to Environmental Conditions Using Residence-Based Measures, Activity Location-Based Measures, and Activity Path-Based Measures." Epidemiology (2018).

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PIRE is an independent, nonprofit organization merging scientific knowledge and proven practice to create solutions that improve the health, safety and well-being of individuals, communities, and nations around the world.

The Prevention Research Center (PRC) of PIRE is one of 16 centers sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), of the National Institutes of Health, and is the only one that specializes in prevention. PRC's focus is on conducting research to better understand the social and physical environments that influence individual behavior that lead to alcohol and drug misuse.

The Resource Link for Community Action provides information and practical guidance to state and community agencies and organizations, policy makers, and members of the public who are interested in combating alcohol and other drug abuse and misuse.

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