Previous research has clearly established associations between low socioeconomic status (SES) and poor youth physical health outcomes. This article provides an overview of the main pathways through which low SES environments come to influence youth health. We focus on 2 prevalent chronic health problems in youth today, asthma and obesity. We review and propose a model that encompasses (a) multiple levels of influence, including the neighborhood, family and person level; (b) both social and physical domains in the environment; and finally (c) dynamic relationships between these factors. A synthesis of existing research and our proposed model draw attention to the notion of adverse physical and social exposures in youth's neighborhood environments altering family characteristics and youth psychosocial and behavioral profiles, thereby increasing youth's risk for health problems. We also note the importance of acknowledging reciprocal influences across levels and domains (e.g., between family and child) that create self-perpetuating patterns of influence that further accentuate the impact of these factors on youth health. Finally, we document that factors across levels can interact (e.g., environmental pollution levels with child stress) to create unique, synergistic effects on youth health. Our model stresses the importance of evaluating influences on youth's physical health not in isolation but in the context of the broader social and physical environments in which youth live. Understanding the complex relationships between the factors that link low SES to youth's long-term health trajectories is necessary for the creation and implementation of successful interventions and policies to ultimately reduce health disparities.
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