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Neighborhood features associated with decreased odds of homicide in adolescents

Neighborhood features including street lighting, parks, public transportation and maintained vacant lots were associated with lower odds of homicide among young people ages 13 to 20, according to an article published online by JAMA Pediatrics.

Youth violence is as complex as it is pervasive. Understanding the influence of modifiable environmental factors on adolescent homicide is an important step in designing interventions for youth violence prevention.

Alison J. Culyba, M.D., M.P.H., of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and coauthors looked at the association between neighborhood environmental features and adolescent homicide in Philadelphia. The study included 143 homicide victims (average age 18.4 years) and 155 matched control participants who were not victims of homicide.

Researchers used pictures to create 360-degree panoramic images of the neighborhood from the street corner closest to each homicide and the location of control participants at the time of the homicides for comparison. The photographs were coded for 60 environmental elements.

Study results indicate lower odds of adolescent homicide were associated with street lighting, illuminated walk/don’t walk signs, painted marked crosswalks, public transportation, parks and maintained vacant lots.

The odds of adolescent homicide were higher in places with stop signs, houses with security bars/gratings and private bushes or plantings.

The authors note their study has limitations such as unmeasured individual, social and contextual factors that were not included but may have influenced the findings.

“The findings related to maintained vacant lots and green space hold promise as targets for future place-based interventions. Researchers using this urban revitalization strategy should consider studying homicide reduction as a key health outcome. … We identified multiple modifiable factors that can potentially be targeted in future randomized intervention trials to investigate ways to reduce youth violence by improving neighborhood context,” the study concludes.