Browning - Adolescent Health and Development in Context

Adolescent Health and Development in Context
Christopher R. Browning, PI

The Adolescent Health and Development in Context (AHDC) study is collecting data on a large-scale sample of youth aged 11 to 17 years in Franklin County, Ohio.  The study emphasizes the interplay of social, psychological, and biological processes in shaping youth developmental outcomes such as risk behavior and victimization, mental and physical health, and educational outcomes. 

Our collection of rich, multi-contextual data on youth—particularly, detailed, geo-coded data on the activity spaces of contemporary adolescents—will significantly advance research on child and adolescent well-being by providing (1) more comprehensive data on the social contexts of youth development, and (2) data of unprecedented geographic and temporal resolution with which to measure the spatial and social exposures youth experience. These data will enable more rigorous tests of hypotheses regarding the role of social contexts in youth development and facilitate application of new methodological approaches to the measurement of developmental contexts (e.g., youth communities). 

Major Questions

Core questions are integrated by a central theme: the contextual embeddedness and interdependence of developmentally relevant processes within and across “levels”. Illustrative questions include: 

  1. Do characteristics of youth activity spaces—i.e., the actual spatial and social exposures youth experience in their daily routines—influence behavioral and health outcomes net of other contexts such as immediate residential areas and schools?
  2. To what extent does day-to-day variability in exposure to potentially stressful environments explain within-individual variability in risk behavior and emotional well-being?
  3. Do peer influences on behavior depend on characteristics of the settings in which youth and their peers interact?

Study Design

The AHDC project offers a number of advances over prior data collections focused on youth development.

First, AHDC will collect data on a comprehensive contexts including family and the household, residential, school, social network, and other formal and informal “activity space” contexts (e.g., churches, recreation centers, businesses, and “hang out” locations).

Second, we will use smartphone-based Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) to collect real-time data over a seven day period on behavioral settings, including social network partner presence, adult supervision, activities, mood/affect, and behaviors. The smartphones also collects, stores, and facilitates delivery of GPS data tracking the travel path of the youth.

We developed an innovative software application for collecting continuous space/time data over 4 of the 7 days covered by the EMA week.  The application inputs the youths GPS and EMA data for each selected day, aiding recall of locations, activities, network partners and behaviors over the course of the day. 

Third, we will independently collect Community Survey data on the social climates of neighborhoods and routine activity spaces of Franklin County residents. In combination with a variety of additional administrative data resources, the Community Survey data will allow us to link detailed information on the spaces to which youth are exposed with other survey and EMA data on their characteristics and life experiences. 

Biomeasure Data Collection

Finally, we are also collecting biomeasure data to study stress & immune function.  We received an R21 award from NIH (PI: Ford) for the collection of cortisol samples, including both nightly saliva for one week and one hair sample.  The first aim is to assess the feasibility of nightly collection of cortisol with a subsample of 500 youth from the AHDC study during Wave 1. The second aim is to examine associations between (a) cortisol biomarkers, (b) immune function biomarkers associated with chronic stress (Epstein-Barr virus DNA [EBV DNA] via 1 saliva sample) and (c) linked secondary data from the main AHDC study of adolescent risk behavior and stress exposures.

AHDC Study Design

Theory and Empirical Work on Social Context and Adolescent Development


We have a recent paper (at Cityscape) elaborating the “ecological network” concept (i.e., two-mode networks that indirectly link residents/households through socio-spatial overlap in routine activities throughout an urban space). We argue that theories of neighborhood effects on youth development have largely neglected actual routine exposures to local settings – i.e., specific locations, organizations, and institutions. We suggest that considering the intersection of individuals and actual behavior settings through use of the activity space concept may yield more insight into the processes by which exposure to neighborhood contexts shape the outcomes of children and adolescents. We also hypothesize that the extent to which residents intersect in space as captured by characteristics of neighborhood-based ecological networks is consequential for adolescent risk behavior, including drug use. Specifically, we develop a theory of the causes and consequences of ecological networks emphasizing the process by which structural patterns of the web of interconnectedness resulting from neighborhood residents’ routine activities may influence neighborhood-based familiarity and trust, social ties, the emergence of shared expectations for beneficial action (collective efficacy), and patterns of public space use. We then introduce the concept of ecological community as a relevant sociospatial exposure context that addresses the problem of individual level activity spaces that extend beyond the boundaries of (often arbitrarily defined) neighborhoods. We conclude with an overview of new approaches to data collection that incorporate insights from an activity space and ecological network perspective on neighborhood and contextual influences on youth.


We have two empirical manuscripts exploring the impact of structural characteristics of neighborhood-based ecological (or “eco-“) networks for aspects of neighborhood functioning and youth development.

In the first paper (currently under review), we integrate insights from social network analysis, activity space perspectives, and theories of urban and spatial processes to present an innovative approach to neighborhood effects on health-risk behavior among youth. We suggest spatial patterns of neighborhood residents’ non-home routine activities may be conceptualized as ecological, or “eco”-networks, which are two-mode networks that indirectly link residents/households through socio-spatial overlap in routine activities. We further argue structural configurations of eco-networks are consequential for youth’s behavioral health. In this study we focus on a key structural feature of eco-networks—namely the extent to which households share two or more activity locations or eco-network reinforcement—and its association with a cumulative measure of health-risk behavior combining  substance use, arrest, and the onset of sexual activity. Using geographic data on non-home routine activity locations among respondents from the Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey (LAFANS), we reconstructed within-neighborhood eco-networks by connecting sampled households to “activity clusters,” which are sets of spatially-proximate activity locations. We then measured eco-network reinforcement and tested its association with adolescent cumulative risk on a sample of 822 youth ages 12-17 nested in 65 tracts. We also examined whether neighborhood-level social processes (collective efficacy and intergenerational closure) mediate the association between eco-network reinforcement and the outcomes considered. Results indicated eco-network closure exhibits negative associations with cumulative risk, a finding that is corroborated in analyses of the independent risk outcomes.  Eco-network reinforcement effects were not explained by potential mediating variables. In addition to introducing a novel theoretical and empirical approach to neighborhood effects on youth, our findings highlight the importance of eco-network reinforcement for adolescent behavioral health.

In the second paper under review, we test the hypothesis that high levels of routine activity overlap within eco-networks—as captured by a measure of clustering within in the network—engender familiarity and trust, ultimately influencing neighborhood safety appraisals. Using geographic data on non-home routine activity locations among respondents from the Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey (LAFANS), we reconstructed within-neighborhood eco-networks by connecting sampled households to sets of spatially-proximate activity locations. We then measured the extent of clustering within the network and tested its association with perceptions of neighborhood safety on samples of 2,578 adults and 1,358 youth nested in 65 tracts. We also examined whether numerous factors (e.g., neighborhood social ties, collective efficacy) mediate or confound the association between closure and safety assessments. Results indicate closure has positive associations with safety assessments among youth and adults that are not fully explained by potential mediating or confounding variables.

An additional paper (in preparation) demonstrates links between multiple structural features of neighborhood eco-networks and neighborhood social organizational features relevant for adolescent health outcomes and drug use (Browning, Calder et al).


Browning, Christopher R. and Brian Soller. “Moving Beyond Neighborhood: Activity Spaces and Ecological Networks as Contexts for Youth Development.” Cityscape 16:1 165-196.

Krivo, Lauren J., Heather M. Washington, Ruth D. Peterson, Christopher R. Browning, Catherine A. Calder, Mei-Po Kwan. 2013. “Social Isolation of Disadvantage and Advantage: The Reproduction of Inequality in Urban Space.” Social Forces 92:141–164.


Kwan, Mei-Po. 2013. “Beyond Space (As We Knew It): Toward Temporally Integrated Geographies of Segregation, Health, and Accessibility.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 103:1078–1086.


Browning, Christopher and Catherine Calder. "Race/Ethnic Segregation of Routine Activity Spaces among Urban Neighborhood Residents: A Multilevel Network Approach.” Population Association of America annual meeting, Boston, MA, May, 2014.

Browning, Christopher, Jodi Ford, Bethany Boettner, Johnathan Rush, and Mei-Po Kwan. “Activity Space Exposures and Adolescent Health and Development”. American Association of Geographers annual meeting, Tampa, FL, April 2014.

Browning, Christopher, and Jodi Ford. “Informal Social Network Dynamics and Day-to-Day Variability in Stress.” Sunbelt 2014, International Sunbelt Social Network Conference, St. Pete Beach, FL, February 2014. 

Browning, Christopher R. “Neighborhoods, Activity Space, and Ecological Networks
Understanding Inequality in the Structure of Criminogenic Exposure.” Thematic Session. Neighborhoods, Crime and the Production of Inequality. American Sociological Association, New York, NY, August, 2013.

Major Funding

  • National Institutes of Health / National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
  • William T. Grant Foundation
  • National Science Foundation


  • Christopher Browning, Principal Investigator, OSU Department of Sociology
  • Catherine Calder, OSU Department of Statistics
  • Elizabeth Cooksey, OSU Department of Sociology
  • Jodi Ford, OSU Department of Nursing
  • Mei-Po Kwan, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Department of Geography and Geographic Information Science