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"Better" neighborhood a mixed blessing for youth

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Moving to a more prosperous neighborhood may help some girls from poor areas feel less distressed, but could harm some boys, a new study suggests.

Researchers found boys from homes where someone was disabled or a child had development problems were particularly vulnerable, while re-housing had little or no effect on the psychological wellbeing of other boys.

Girls from homes without "health-related vulnerabilities" appeared to thrive better after moving to a neighborhood with less poverty, according to a report in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

The findings are based on interim results from a government-funded study called Moving To Opportunity. Under that program, a few thousand low-income families from Boston, Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York were offered a chance to relocate to a "better" neighborhood.

Mental health has been linked to poverty in previous research, but this is the only true experiment to evaluate the effects of relocating to a more prosperous neighborhood.

Long-term results from the study show that adults benefited from re-housing, both in terms of lower obesity rates and better mental health, despite remaining poor.

To gauge the effects on youth, researchers led by Theresa Osypuk at Northeastern University in Boston analyzed data from more than 2,800 adolescents ages 12 to 19.

Their work is based on interviews conducted with the youngsters between four and seven years after they had been relocated and is an interim analysis, according to the new report.

Psychological distress was measured according to how interviewees answered questions about depression, nervousness, hopelessness and feelings of worthlessness among other things.

The researchers, who could not be reached for comment by deadline, suggest in the paper that part of the gender gap they found may be related to the specific experiences and psychological needs of girls versus boys.

For instance, improved safety from sexual violence may help girls feel better, but be less relevant to boys. On the other hand, disrupting friendships or adult role models may take a bigger toll on boys, they say.

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/K3aQdr Archives of General Psychiatry, online October 8, 2012.

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