Researchers are knocking on doors across Los Angeles County asking families to take part in the latest phase of a RAND Corporation study that is examining the impact that neighborhoods have on children and families.

The effort is part of the second wave of the Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey, a $12 million effort that is studying thousands of families to improve understanding of the factors that influence children’s educational and social development around the United States.

The initial phase of the study was begun in 2000 by RAND, a Santa Monica-based nonprofit research organization, and already is yielding insights into how neighborhoods influence children.

Published results have examined whether Los Angeles youngsters are ready for school, probed neighborhood factors that may contribute to obesity, and provided the first concrete estimate of the number of undocumented immigrants who have health insurance.

About 3,000 families participated in the first wave of the federally-funded study.

Researchers hope to enroll 1,000 additional families during the next phase, which has begun in more than 60 neighborhoods across Los Angeles County.

The project is led by researchers from RAND and the UCLA School of Public Health.

Survey interviewers from the Research Triangle Institute are leading the efforts to identify families to take part in the next phase of the study.

Families that enroll will be asked to complete an interview covering topics such as neighborhood life, children’s friends and activities, work and health insurance, child care, and residential mobility.

They may also be asked to participate in subsequent rounds of the study.

To assess the health status of a portion of adult and child participants, researchers are checking height and weight, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and breathing, and examining levels of stress hormones.

The Los Angeles County study was designed to update and expand past research about how the urban landscape affects children, according to Narayan Sastry, a RAND researcher and co-director of the study.

That knowledge helps schools decide how to engage parents, guides cities as they build and staff parks, and influences many other government and private programs.

“Much of what we know about how neighborhoods affect the well-being of kids and adults comes from studies done in cities on the East Coast and in the Midwest,” Sastry said. “But Los Angeles represents how the nation has changed, with large numbers of immigrants and a mobile population. It’s important to see if lessons from the past and from other parts of the country are valid in today’s growing urban areas in the West.”

Among the ideas the study is examining is that neighborhood characteristics are important if children are to thrive academically.

Study findings suggest that a neighborhood’s average family income may have an important effect on how well children learn, and that growing up in a poor neighborhood may influence children’s learning well beyond the effect of growing up in a poor family.

Study results also suggest that strong ties among neighbors may affect a variety of outcomes for adults and children.

While everyone interviewed in the first wave of the survey is a Los Angeles County resident, researchers have been able to extrapolate many of their findings to the rest of the United States because the county is in many ways a microcosm of America.

Primary funding for the study is being provided by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute of Aging and the National Institute of Environmental Health Science.

Information about the study is available at www.lasurvey.rand.org

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