BACKGROUND: As part of a long-standing line of research regarding how peer density affects health, researchers have sought to understand the multifaceted ways that the density of contemporaries living and interacting in proximity to one another influence social networks and knowledge diffusion, and subsequently health and well-being. This study examined peer density effects on oral health for racial/ethnic minority older adults living in northern Manhattan and the Bronx, New York, NY.
METHODS: Peer age-group density was estimated by smoothing US Census data with 4 kernel bandwidths ranging from 0.25 to 1.50 mile. Logistic regression models were developed using these spatial measures and data from the ElderSmile oral and general health screening program that serves predominantly racial/ethnic minority older adults at community centers in northern Manhattan and the Bronx. The oral health outcomes modeled as dependent variables were ordinal dentition status and binary self-rated oral health. After construction of kernel density surfaces and multiple imputation of missing data, logistic regression analyses were performed to estimate the effects of peer density and other sociodemographic characteristics on the oral health outcomes of dentition status and self-rated oral health.
RESULTS: Overall, higher peer density was associated with better oral health for older adults when estimated using smaller bandwidths (0.25 and 0.50 mile). That is, statistically significant relationships (p < 0.01) between peer density and improved dentition status were found when peer density was measured assuming a more local social network. As with dentition status, a positive significant association was found between peer density and fair or better self-rated oral health when peer density was measured assuming a more local social network.
CONCLUSIONS: This study provides novel evidence that the oral health of community-based older adults is affected by peer density in an urban environment. To the extent that peer density signifies the potential for social interaction and support, the positive significant effects of peer density on improved oral health point to the importance of place in promoting social interaction as a component of healthy aging. Proximity to peers and their knowledge of local resources may facilitate utilization of community-based oral health care.
- Journal Article