While the association between individual socioeconomic status (SES) and health outcomes is now well established, epidemiologists and social scientists have also identified a relationship between neighborhood level socio-economic factors and individual health. This developing literature focuses on various indicators of neighborhood-level socioeconomic differences such as the prevalence of poverty and unemployment, with the goal of demonstrating neighborhood SES effects on health outcomes and trajectories over and above individual SES. Over the last two decades, the impact of environments on the physical and mental health and functioning of individuals has emerged as a frontier of research in population health and health disparities. Aspects of residential context may combine additively or interactively with individual-level variables to significantly increase our ability to explain variation in health and functional outcomes and/or their risk factors, hence offering new avenues for health-promoting interventions.


Research Associate Professor, Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan

I'm interested in understanding how the design of our outdoor built environments (e.g., sidewalk quality, curb cuts, and pedestrian crossings) promotes or hinders mobility, particularly among older adults or those with physical/cognitive impairments, who may find urban environments more challenging to navigate. Using wearable technology, we collect hundreds of thousands of data points (e.g. step length, stride time, and other step-based metrics) in real time from individuals walking in real-world outdoor environments.

I work with a highly interdisciplinary team of colleagues from social science, architecture and urban planning (Robert Adams), nursing (Nancy Ambrose Gallagher), geriatrics (Neil Alexander), and industrial engineering (Clive DíSouza), who are all interested in understanding inclusive design for successful aging, optimal mobility and physical activity.

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Research Assistant Professor, Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan

I am currently a Research Assistant Professor at the Survey Research Center of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, with an additional appointment in the Division of Nephrology in the Department of Internal Medicine. Both my pre- and post-doctoral training has emphasized interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches to the study of health inequities, first at the Population Studies Center and then as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar, both at the University of Michigan.

Broadly speaking, I examine the ways in which social forces link racial group membership to the risk of poor health, particularly those conditions related to cardiovascular and renal diseases. In the US, despite tremendous resources devoted to the elimination of health inequalities, evidence suggests that they are growing. I would argue that our inability to eliminate (or even reduce) these inequalities is due to a lack of truly interdisciplinary approaches. Throughout my research program, I ground my approach to the study of race in the social sciences while integrating the biological sciences to ensure that the mechanisms I examine are both socially- and biologically-plausible.

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Director, Population Studies Center. Research Professor, Population Studies Center & Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research. Professor of Sociology. University of Michigan

I have a broad background in sociology, with specific training and expertise in demography, criminology, urban sociology, and quantitative methods. My areas of research include neighborhoods and spatial inequality, crime and the criminal justice system, and population health. My current research projects include work on prisoner reintegration, communities, and families; the effects of incarceration on labor market outcomes, recidivism, and health; the population dynamics of neighborhood change; and how local community context shapes perceptions of inequality, perceptions of place, and residential mobility. I have been PI or co-Investigator on grants funded by NIH, NSF, private foundations, and sources within the University of Michigan. I successfully administered the projects (e.g. staffing, research protections, budget), collaborated with other researchers, and produced several peer-reviewed publications from each project. In addition to serving as Director of the Population Studies Center, my administrative experience includes stints as Director of the Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholars Program at the University of Michigan, Associate Chair in the Department of Sociology, and Associate Director of the Population Studies Center.

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Understanding the Role of the Built Environment for Mobility in Older Adults. National Institutes of Health/NIA R03 AG043661. (07/01/2013 - 06/30/2016)

Mobility, defined as an individual's ability to move about effectively in his or her surroundings, is fundamental to independence and quality of life. Difficulty with mobility (mobility disability) is highly prevalent in older adult populations, with negative consequences for independence and social isolation. Recent models of disability draw attention to the role of environmental factors that can interact with an individual's underlying impairments or capacities to impede or enhance a person's ability to be independent in mobility. For example, living on a street without continuous, barrier-free sidewalks may hinder mobility for a person living with pain or leg weakness due to arthritis. Using secondary analyses with data from the recently launched National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS), this proposal aims to further our understanding of the dynamic nature of the disablement process.

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Adding Contextual Data to the Health and Retirement Study. National Institutes of Health/NIA R21. (09/01/2013 - 08/31/2015)

The purpose of this project is to enhance the impact of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) by developing a rich contextual data resource with measures of the social and physical environment that will inform interventions designed to optimize health trajectories in older adults. Socio-environmental contexts may play an important role in shaping opportunities for older adults to lead healthy, active, independent and engaged lives. However, lack of large, representative, prospective studies of older adults that include data on the residential environment presents a formidable challenge for advancing research in this area. The HRS is the largest ongoing study of aging in the U.S. and presents an ideal opportunity for adding data on the socioenvironmental context to an existing study of aging. In this application we propose to: (1) assemble a suite of contextual data sets derived from publicly available national data sources containing information on the social and physical environment that can be linked to the HRS using geographic identifiers; (2) construct measures representing six key theoretical dimensions of the socio-environmental context - socioeconomic/ demographic structure, psychosocial stressors, health care, physical hazards, amenities, and land use/built environment; and (3) create detailed documentation for use in future studies, describing the attributes of the secondary data, the procedures used to create the linked data files, and measurement construction to be distributed with the contextual data files.

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Improving Environmental Measures in Obesity Research using Innovative Technology. National Institutes of Health/NCI R21. (07/01/2015 - 06/30/2017)

Obesity and physical inactivity are significant public health issues, particularly in low-income and minority populations. Recent research has highlighted the built environment as a potential causal factor for obesity and physical inactivity. A number of methods can be used to measure built environment characteristics including self-report measures, archival data, direct observation and, more recently, web-based audits (e.g., Google Street View); however, each of these methods has notable limitations. In the proposed study, we seek to test the use of an innovative technology for measuring the built environment, namely GigaPan. GigaPan is a robot system that automates obtaining numerous photos of an area using a basic camera housed within its apparatus. The resulting photos are then stitched together to form a single high-resolution photo that is highly navigable. Using GigaPan, we will document and characterize features of the built environment on 683 street segments and in 287 target areas across 19 park/ playgrounds. These measures will be compared to measures obtained via direct observation (collected as part of a separate grant) and web-based audits (i.e., Google Street View for street segments and Bing Maps for parks/ playgrounds). We hypothesize that the GigaPan technology will embody most of the benefits of direct observation while significantly reducing the time and cost burden. In addition, we hypothesize that measures obtained via GigaPan will be more valid than measures obtained from Google Street View and better suited for studies of built environment change as GigaPan data are time sensitive.

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Chicago Community Adult Heath Study

CCAHS is the only study of a large U.S. city to offer comprehensive assessments of all neighborhoods in a city, which allows researchers to implement spatial analytic models. CCAHS began as a collaborative project with investigators from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods (PHDCN), and it contained modified versions of a community survey that was first administered in the same neighborhoods by PHDCN in 1995 and systematic social observations (SSOs) of blocks within neighborhoods similar to ones that PHDCN conducted in 1995 on a larger number of blocks but in a sub-sample of only 80 neighborhoods. Thus, at the neighborhood-level CCAHS is already a panel data set, containing unique and extensive neighborhood measures that are available in few other studies.

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Research Themes



Racism, Stress, & Health

Resilience in Aging

Social Networks & Health

Disability Dynamics

Gene-Environment Interaction