Trans-NIH collaboration with NIOSH initiates studies of racial and ethnic disparities in health

January 03, 2001

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, in collaboration with six other National Institutes of Health components, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, today announced 12 five-year projects that will provide scientists with a better understanding of how social and physical environmental factors interact to impoverish the health of racial and ethnic minorities.

The total funding for these grants is approximately $33 million over the five-year period. NIEHS coordinated the grants and the NIH participation and provided $3.8 million of the initial, first year $6.6 million. The partnership is the first trans-NIH collaboration designed to address the Department of Health and Human Services' Initiative to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health.

Other NIH participants are the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research. The NIH effort was assisted by its Office of Research on Minority Health, which sponsored a series of health disparities workshops during the developmental stages of the new research initiative.

The National Instititute of Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, is a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention within the Department of Health and Human Services .

The principal investigators who are receiving these grants are listed below:

Redford B. Williams at Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C., will study a cohort of individuals who are care givers for spouses with Alzheimer's Disease to determine how the stress of being a care giver, along with other socially-related stressors can contribute to negative health behaviors. The investigators also hope to determine whether these stressors can contribute to the health disparities between people of different socioeconomic strata and races.

Brian S. Schwartz at Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene & Public Health, Baltimore, Md., will explore how lead absorption, genetics, social and behavioral factors, social context and blood pressure contribute to the racial and socioeconomic disparity in the decline in cognitive functioning that occurs in elderly people. The investigators propose to test a diverse sample of 900 subjects to see whether lead burden does indeed contribute to a more rapid decline in cognitive function.

Lawrence M. Schell at the State University of New York - Albany, New York, seeks to determine the relationship between exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and thyroid function and psychosocial measures in a population of Mohawk adolescents living along the St. Lawrence River in the Awkwesasne Nation in upstate New York. The results could be of value to populations that consume large amounts of fish, in which PCBs may accumulate.

John W. Frank at the University of California-Berkeley will examine the interaction of psychosocial and physical-ergonomic factors such as job category, job stress and socioeconomic status on the incidence of negative health outcomes in a population of healthcare workers. The outcomes include lost work time, work-related musculoskeletal disorders, overall quality of life, and injury-specific functional status.

Rosalind J. Wright at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard University School of Public Health in Boston, Mass., will study the role of physical environmental agents and psychosocial factors such as life stress in the increasing incidence of childhood asthma, particularly among socioeconomically disadvantaged children in inner city areas. The investigators hypothesize that stress experienced prenatally and during infancy and early childhood has significant potential to modify immune function and, hence, the development of asthma.

Hester J. Lipscomb of Duke University and collaborators at the University of North Carolina and the Center for Women's Economic Alternatives, will attempt to quantify the incidence of negative health outcomes among women in a five-county region in northeastern North Carolina as a result of racial discrimination and fast-paced assembly line production. These outcomes include the evaluation of occupational roots of health disparities in women.

Jose Szapocznick at the University of Miami will study the built environment of elderly Hispanic residents in a low-socioeconomic neighborhood in East Little Havana, Florida. The investigators want to determine the extent to which the residents' built environment, as defined by the architectural features of the buildings they occupy, is mediated by their social behaviors and support systems in influencing their behavioral health and cognitive functioning.

Carolyn A. Berry at Northwestern University, Chicago, Ill., will study the racial disparities in the incidence of pediatric asthma among low-income African American, Latino and Caucasian elementary school-aged children. The primary goal is to clarify the biologic, environmental, social and behavioral factors that lead to these disparities.

Craig Slatin at the University of Massachusetts - Lowell proposes to examine the work environment as a primary influence on health-related quality of life endpoints such as musculoskeletal disorders, various types of acute injuries, and mental health conditions. All three of these endpoints have been associated with environmental conditions in the workplace, which themselves show a marked socioeconomic gradient because of widespread occupational segregation.

Amy J. Schulz at the University of Michigan will examine how race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status, demographic factors such as neighborhood environment, and exposure to environmental toxicants (particulate air pollution) can lead to racial and socioeconomic disparity in the risk of cardiovascular disease. This project will be undertaken in partnership with community-based organizations and healthcare institutions in Detroit.

Carlos Mendes de Leon at the Rush-Presbyterian St. Luke Medical Center, Chicago, Ill., will test whether greater biological risk factors and adverse neighborhood conditions can lead to disparities in disability in older people. Age-related disability is considered to be the most important measure of overall health status in the elderly, and a major cause of poor quality of life at that age.

Marilyn A. Winkleby at Stanford University in California will assess the role of the neighborhood environment and other individual risk factors in predicting deaths, including those from cardiovascular disease. These potential risk factors include neighborhood socioeconomic status, social disorganization, Hispanic concentration, crime rate, housing conditions, availability of goods and services, educational resources and recreational facilities.

NIH/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

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