The Relationship of Neighborhood Socioeconomic Differences and Racial Residential Segregation to Childhood Blood Lead Levels in Metropolitan Detroit


This study uses a new approach to assess the impact of different neighborhood characteristics on blood lead levels (BLLs) of black versus white children in metropolitan Detroit. Data were obtained from the Michigan Department of Community Health and the US Bureau of the Census American Community Survey. The Modified Darden-Kamel Composite Socioeconomic Index, bivariate regression, and the index of dissimilarity were used to compute neighborhood BLL unevenness by neighborhood characteristics. Neighborhoods with lower socioeconomic characteristics and high racial residential segregation predicted higher average childhood BLLs. This reveals a social spatial structure that will aid researchers/policymakers in better understanding disparities in childhood BLLs.

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    *P ≤ 0.05; **P ≤ 0.01; ***P ≤ 0.001; ****P ≤ 0.0001

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    Additional bivariate regression analyses were performed to test if geometric mean BLLs were greater in neighborhoods of older occupied housing stock and less in neighborhoods of younger occupied housing stock for all race/ethnicity children in attempt to explain the residuals discussed above. The regression slope coefficient estimates for the percent year structure built in 1939 or before was 0.020**** (S.E. = 0.001), percent year structure built in 1979 or before 0.008**** (S.E. = 0.000), and percent year structure built in 2005 or later −0.027**** (S.E. = 0.005), validating that as housing stock increases in age, small but significant amounts of variation in BLLs increase across neighborhoods in the DMA. The y-intercept estimates from the analyses were 1.75, 1.57, and 2.12 with R-square values of 0.58, 0.21, and 0.03, respectively. These weak but interpretable patterns help in part to explain the imperfect associations of BLLs and SEP. Source: housing age stock was computed by the authors using the US Bureau of the Census, 2010 data.41


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We would like to express great appreciation to Dr. Sue Grady, Associate Professor of Geography at Michigan State University, for her place-based and public health outcomes expertise that provided invaluable detailed attention to the health nature of this research. We would also like to thank Dr. Robert Scott of the Michigan Department of Community Health not only for the blood lead level data but also for providing a wealth of ideas and technical information about childhood lead exposure.

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Correspondence to Heather A. Moody.

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Moody, H.A., Darden, J.T. & Pigozzi, B.W. The Relationship of Neighborhood Socioeconomic Differences and Racial Residential Segregation to Childhood Blood Lead Levels in Metropolitan Detroit. J Urban Health 93, 820–839 (2016).

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  • Lead poisoning
  • Detroit
  • Race
  • Socioeconomic position
  • Neighborhood segregation