Category Archives: Social determinants of health

Oct 2 2014
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RWJF Scholars in the News: Autism and birth order, nurse staffing and underweight infants, long-term care insurance, and more.

Around the country, print, broadcast and online media outlets are covering the groundbreaking work of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) leaders, scholars, fellows, alumni and grantees. Some recent examples:

There is an increased risk of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) among children born less than one year or more than five years after the birth of their next oldest sibling, Forbes reports. The study, led by RWJF Health & Society Scholars program alumna Keely Cheslack-Postava, PhD, MSPH, analyzed the records of 7,371 children born between 1987 and 2005, using data from the Finnish Prenatal Study of Autism. About a third of the children had been diagnosed with ASD by 2007. Researchers found that the risk of ASD for children born less than 12 months after their prior sibling was 50 percent higher than it was for children born two to five years after their prior sibling. “The theory is that the timing between pregnancies changes the prenatal environment for the developing fetus,” Cheslack-Postava said. 

The health outcomes and quality of care for underweight black infants could greatly improve with more nurses on staff at hospitals with higher concentrations of black patients, according to a study funded by RWJF’s Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative (INQRI). The study, led by Eileen Lake, PhD, RN, FAAN, found that nurse understaffing and practice environments were worse at hospitals with higher concentrations of black patients, contributing to adverse outcomes for very low birthweight babies born in those facilities, reports Health Canal. More information is available on the INQRI Blog. The study was covered by Advance Healthcare Network for Nurses, among other outlets.

Because of a “medical-industrial complex” that provides financial incentives to overuse and fragment health care, patients nearing the end of their lives need an advocate to fight for their interests, Joan Teno, MD, MS, writes in an opinion piece for the New York Times. Teno encourages readers to “find a family member or friend who can advocate for the health care that you want and need. Find someone to ask the hard questions: What is your prognosis? What are the benefits and risks of treatments? Find someone not afraid of white coats.” Teno is an RWJF Investigator Award in Health Policy Research recipient. 

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Sep 2 2014
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Engaging a New Generation of Health Disparities Researchers

Theresa Simpson, BS, is a 2003 alumna and acting assistant director of Project L/EARN, and a doctoral student at the Rutgers Department of Sociology. Dawne Mouzon, PhD, MPH, MA, is a 1998 alumna and former course instructor for Project L/EARN, and an assistant professor at Rutgers Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. Project L/EARN is a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research, and Rutgers University.

Theresa Simpson Theresa Simpson

When we began co-teaching Project L/EARN in the summer of 2006, health disparities was gaining momentum as a field.

At the time, we were both Project L/EARN alumni who shared a background in public health. We were becoming increasingly immersed in disparities through our graduate studies in the health, population and life course concentration of the sociology doctoral program at Rutgers University. 

Dawne Mouzon Dawne Mouzon

Directly as a result of that coursework, we began significantly expanding the Project L/EARN curriculum in the area of health disparities. Now, every summer, we hit the ground running the opening week of the program.

In the first lecture, an overview of the field of health disparities, Dawne introduces various theoretical frameworks for studying health disparities, followed by data on the social demography on various race/ethnic groups. She concludes with a series of charts and graphs showing race/ethnic, gender and socioeconomic status (SES) inequities in the epidemiology of health and illness. 

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Aug 22 2014
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We See the Dead and Don’t See the Living: The Realities of Black Men

Keon L. Gilbert, DrPH, MA, MPA, is an assistant professor in the Department of Behavioral Science & Health Education at St. Louis University's College for Public Health and Social Justice and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) New Connections grantee.

Keon Gilbert

Involuntary martyrs.

In 1999, 28-year-old Demetrius DuBose, a linebacker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was shot 12 times by two officers in his San Diego neighborhood. DuBose was a former co-captain of Notre Dame’s famed football team. His death came after he was questioned and harassed regarding a burglary in his neighborhood. Officers reported they had no choice but to shoot DuBose while he was handcuffed because they feared for their lives.

Many of these details sound similar to those surrounding the death of Michael (Mike) Brown Jr., who was shot at least six times in Ferguson, Missouri, this month. Brown was unarmed. He was reportedly fleeing from a police officer who also felt his life was in danger. 

What is missing from this picture is that black males also feel threatened and distrustful of authority figures and are routinely disengaged from contexts such as schools, medical facilities and neighborhoods. The narrative remains the same: Black males who die from excessive force become involuntary martyrs for the sustained legacy of institutional and interpersonal racism that is associated with the health disparities plaguing black communities. 

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Aug 13 2014
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Debt Takes Toll on Health, Study Finds

Elizabeth Sweet, PhD, is a biocultural anthropologist researching economic and racial disparities in health and an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program (2008-2010). She was the lead author of a recent study exploring the impact of financial debt on health. 

Elizabeth Sweet

Human Capital Blog: You have published more than one study that looks at the impact of debt on health. What led to your interest in this topic?

Elizabeth Sweet: My interest is driven by both intellectual and personal reasons. As someone who studies the impact of social inequalities on health, I am interested in personal debt as a dimension of socioeconomic status, a site of racial and economic disparity, and a reflection of broader social, cultural, and political-economic forces. Also, as someone who completed education with a fair amount of debt, I am personally familiar with the profound stress that debt can cause.

HCB: College tuition is rising and more people are defaulting on student loan debt. How does student loan debt affect young people’s mental and physical health?

Sweet: This is such an important question. Our study suggests that financial debt indeed impacts the health and well-being of young people—leading to higher stress and depressive symptoms, worse general health, and higher blood pressure. The specific impact of student loan debt, vs. other kinds of debt, is an open question though; the Add Health data that we used did not have that level of detail regarding the types of debt that respondents had. 

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Jul 28 2014
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What Protects Our Children from the Effects of Stress?

Lorraine McKelvey, PhD, is an associate professor of family and preventive medicine and pediatrics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. She is an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) New Connections program (2008-2009) whose work focuses on vulnerable populations.

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For children, stress can come from sources inside and outside the family. It was recently documented that nearly two out of every three children in the United States have witnessed or been victims of violence in their homes, schools, or communities. That’s a staggering statistic when we consider the well-established link between children’s exposure to stress and their long-term mental and physical health outcomes.

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Indeed, we know that early exposure to adverse experiences can change the way that our brains develop and function. We also know that exposure to adversity increases the likelihood that children will develop psychosocial problems, like depression, aggression, and other antisocial behaviors. There is even evidence that exposure to stressors in childhood increases the likelihood of having heart disease and cancer in adulthood!

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Jul 24 2014
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RWJF Scholars in the News: Stereotype threat, hand hygiene, misbehaving science, and more.

Around the country, print, broadcast, and online media outlets are covering the groundbreaking work of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) leaders, scholars, fellows, alumni, and grantees. Some recent examples:

Anxiety caused by “stereotype threat” could help explain health disparities that persist across race, suggests research co-authored by Cleopatra Abdou, PhD, an RWJF Health & Society Scholars program alumna. News Medical covers the study, describing it as the first of its kind to empirically test, in the context of health sciences, the impact of the “threat of being judged by or confirming a negative stereotype about a group you belong to.” Abdou’s research offers a possible explanation for ethnic and socioeconomic differences in morbidity and mortality between Black and White women because, as Abdou says, the research goes beyond nature vs. nurture, “bringing situation and identity into the equation.” For example, in the study, Black women with a strong connection to their race had the highest anxiety levels when in waiting rooms filled with posters that displayed negative health-related racial stereotypes dealing with such topics as unplanned pregnancy and AIDS.

Having health insurance improves access to medical care for pregnant, low-income women, and results in long-term health benefits for their babies, according to a study by RWJF Scholar in Health Policy Research Sarah Miller, PhD, and RWJF Health & Society Scholar Laura Wherry, PhD, that was reported by Vox. Miller and Wherry found the expansion of Medicaid in the 1980s made prenatal care much more accessible to low-income women, many of whom would otherwise have been without insurance. The result was improvements in obesity, preventable hospitalizations, and preventable, chronic disease-related hospitalizations among children. 

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Jul 22 2014
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A Closer Look at Contributors to Stress for Latinos

Gabriel R. Sanchez, PhD, is an associate professor of political science at the University of New Mexico (UNM), executive director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Center for Health Policy at UNM, and director of research for Latino Decisions. Yajaira Johnson-Esparza is a PhD Candidate in the UNM department of psychology and an RWJF Fellow at the University. 

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A recent survey conducted by RWJF, NPR, and the Harvard School of Public Health focused our attention on the burdens that stress poses for Americans. We want to focus our attention in this blog post on factors that may be leading to stress among the Latino population. Although the experience of stress is very common, the experience and burden of stress is not uniform across people in the United States.

file Gabriel R. Sanchez

One of the main findings that emerged from the recent RWJF/NPR/Harvard survey was the strong role of health problems in stress in the United States, with 27 percent of respondents noting that illness or disease was a major source of stress over the past year. In addition to the direct impact of being sick, the financial burdens associated with needing medical care can generate a lot of stress. We have found support for this finding in some of our own work at the UNM RWJF Center for Health Policy. For example, a recent survey we helped produce found that 28 percent of  Latino adults indicated that because of medical bills, they have been unable to pay for basic necessities like food, housing, or heat, with 40 percent indicating they have had trouble paying their other bills. The financial stress associated with illness can have a devastating impact on Latinos.

file Yajaira Johnson-Esparza

Latinos in the United States also face unique stressors from other Americans due to their language use, nativity, and experiences with discrimination. Being followed in a store, being denied employment or housing, and being told that you do not speak English well can all lead to stress for Latinos.

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Jul 2 2014
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RWJF Scholars in the News: Menopause and heart disease, nurses and health care finance, and more.

Around the country, print, broadcast, and online media outlets are covering the groundbreaking work of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) leaders, scholars, fellows, alumni, and grantees. Some recent examples: 

Changes in hormone levels during early menopause could be linked to an increased risk of heart disease, finds a new study co-authored by RWJF Health & Society Scholars program alumna Rebecca Thurston, PhD. Health Canal covers the study, describing it as a first-of-its-kind evaluation because it used nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to assess the lipoproteins that carry cholesterol through the blood, rather than relying on conventional blood tests. Thurston’s study was published in the Journal of Lipid Research.

For Alice Goffman, PhD, an RWJF Scholars in Health Policy Research alumna, an undergraduate assignment turned into a six-year study of a low-income Philadelphia neighborhood in which, she concluded, “the young men in this community feel hunted.” In the resulting book, On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City, Goffman says that a “climate of fear and suspicion pervades everyday life” in the community. The New York Times Sunday Book Review calls Goffman’s work “riveting” and her ability to understand her subjects “astonishing.”

The Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing has received a $13.6 million grant from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to integrate and coordinate physical, behavioral, and social-health needs for people enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid, reports the Northern Colorado Business Report. The story quotes Susan Birch, MBS, BSN, RN, executive director of the department: “This grant allows Colorado to coordinate our members' care, while achieving greater value and health outcomes for our citizens who are on both Medicare and Medicaid.” Birch is an RWJF Executive Nurse Fellows alumna.

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Jun 30 2014
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Sharing Nursing’s Knowledge: The June 2014 Issue

Have you signed up to receive Sharing Nursing’s Knowledge? The monthly Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) e-newsletter will keep you up to date on the work of the Foundation’s nursing programs, and the latest news, research, and trends related to academic progression, leadership, and other essential nursing issues. Following are some of the stories in the June 2014 issue.

Campaign for Action Is Chalking Up Successes that Will Improve Patient Care
Three years after it launched, the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action is making steady progress on nurse education, practice, interprofessional collaboration, data collection, and diversity, according to a series of indicators released last month. Led by RWJF and AARP, the Campaign has created Action Coalitions in all 50 states and the District of Columbia that are working to implement recommendations from the Institute of Medicine. “Because of the Campaign, there’s more awareness about the importance of preparing the nursing workforce to address our nation’s most pressing health care challenges: access, quality, and cost,” says RWJF Senior Program Officer Nancy Fishman, MPH.

Pioneering Nurse Scientist Addresses Asthma-Related Disparities
Kamal Eldeirawi
, PhD, RN, a pioneering scientist with expertise in immigrant health, was born in the Gaza Strip in Palestine, where he saw the profound impact of poverty and disadvantage on health in his own community. A career in nursing, the RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholar believed, would allow him to make a difference at both the individual and population-wide levels. Today, Eldeirawi, is researching risk factors that contribute to asthma in Mexican American children living in the United States, and the effects of immigration and acculturation on children’s health.

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Jun 26 2014
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RWJF Scholars in the News: Unemployment and suicide, prescription painkiller abuse, veterans’ care, and more

Around the country, print, broadcast, and online media outlets are covering the groundbreaking work of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) leaders, scholars, fellows, alumni, and grantees. Some recent examples:

More generous unemployment benefits can lead to lower suicide rates, according to a study co-authored by RWJF Health & Society Scholars program alumna Maria Glymour, MS, ScD. The Huffington Post covers the study, describing it as the first of its kind to reach that conclusion. Glymour and colleagues speculate that higher benefits help mediate some of the stressors that contribute to suicide.

A survey of licensed nurses in Wyoming examines factors involved in their decisions about whether to continue their education. In a Wyoming Business Report story, Mary Burman, PhD, RN, an alumna of the RWJF Executive Nurse Fellows program, notes that the Institute of Medicine’s Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health report recommends that 80 percent of nurses have baccalaureate degrees or higher by 2020. She says findings from the new survey point to strategies that might help achieve that goal, noting “the positive role that employers can play by encouraging and supporting nurses to return to school for their baccalaureate degree.” Burman is dean of the University of Wyoming’s Fay W. Whitney School of Nursing, which collaborated on the survey.

Nicholas King, PhD, MA, an RWJF Health & Society Scholars program alumnus, investigates the sharp increase in deaths from prescription painkillers in the United States and Canada over the past 20 years, reports Medical Xpress. King and colleagues analyzed research about the “epidemic,” concluding that Internet sales and errors by doctors and patients have not played a significant role in the increase. Rather, they “found evidence for at least 17 different determinants of increasing opioid-related mortality, mainly, dramatically increased prescription and sales of opioids; increased use of strong, long-acting opioids like OxyContin and methadone; combined use of opioids and other (licit and illicit) drugs and alcohol; and social and demographic factors.” Outlets covering King’s work include the Toronto Sun, Fast Company, and the National Pain Report

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