Seed Grant Awards, 2010-2011

Congratulations to the 2010-2011 Seed Grant Award Recipients! Scroll down to see project abstracts.

History, Culture, and Power in Global Health

Amy Fairchild (Sociomedical Sciences)
Richard Parker (Sociomedical Sciences)

Over the course of the past decade, few fields have experienced such significant growth as has taken place in the field of global health. Yet while much of this growth is very recent – indeed, even the label of “global health” began to be used only a little more than 10 years ago – the intellectual roots of this rapidly expanding field are actually much deeper, and its historical foundations have been built over a far longer history. There is now fairly clear recognition of a set of historical paradigm shifts from tropical medicine (as it took shape under conditions of colonialism), to international health (as it took shape from roughly the post-World War II period of international development), to global health (as it has been reframed in the past 10 to 20 years, especially following the end of the Cold War period, with a true boom taking place during the 2000s). This project draws on historical, anthropological, and public health disciplinary frameworks and methods in order to build the foundation for an interdisciplinary analysis of the field of global health, the conceptual paradigms that have framed thinking about global health, and the key values that have shaped ethics, policies and politics within this field. This proposal requests seed grant funds from the Columbia Population Research Center to provide support for an initial planning phase of one year. During this foundational phase of work, three small, intensive, interdisciplinary seminars will be organized by the Co-Investigators and that would involve participants from across Columbia University as well as a small number of key invitees from other institutions in order to (1) think through the framing of the “global” in global health, (2) to examine the articulation of an ethical foundation for the field, and (3) explore the ways in which these constructions have taken been elaborated in relation to the key fields of HIV/AIDS (and infectious disease), tobacco (and chronic disease), and aging (and population dynamics). Results from these seminars will feed into two kinds of publications (short opinion pieces targeted to leading journals such as The Lancet, the New England Journal of Medicine and the American Journal of Public Health, as well as a longer set of analyses that will be brought together in a Special Supplement of the journal Global Public Health). These results will also be used for the development of a more extended proposal to be submitted to the National Science Foundation (and possibly to other potential private donors such as the Rockefeller Foundation or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) for support of a three to five year project aimed at exploring this analysis in greater detail.

The Interactive Effects of State, City and School Physical Activity and Nutrition Policies with Student Genotype on Childhood Obesity

Jason Fletcher (RWJ HSS)
Jeanne Brooks-Gunn (Teachers College & College of Physicians and Surgeons)

The goal of this project is to examine potential interactions between specific genetic predispositions to becoming overweight during childhood and environmental influences. While the rapid increase in childhood obesity in the past few decades suggests that shifting population genetics is likely not the key explanation of the epidemic, potential interactions with the changing environment of US children, such as reductions in physical activity and increases in consumption of calorie-dense food, could represent an important contribution to the obesity epidemic. This project will focus on how specific policy-relevant environmental characteristics, such as physical education requirements and nutritional standards, may interact with children’s genetic endowments to lead to rapid increases in obesity.

Biological Embedding of Social Stress in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Populations

Mark L. Hatzenbuehler (RWJ HSS)
Bruce Link(Epidemiology)
Katie A. McLaughlin (Pediatrics)

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) populations are at greater risk for multiple adverse health outcomes compared to heterosexuals, including significantly higher rates of psychiatric disorders, obesity, heart disease, asthma, and physical disability. Social stress theory is the predominant theoretical framework explaining the etiology of these disparities, but existing research has not illuminated the pathways linking social stress to health problems within LGB populations. The current proposal, which integrates biological and social levels of analysis, will take advantage of the recently-released biomarker data in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), a nationally representative prospective cohort study of U.S. adolescents (N=15,197; 3% self-identify as LGB). The goal of the proposal is to address a novel and unanswered question: through what biological pathways does social stress create adverse health outcomes in LGB youths? We will use several measures of social stress assessed in Waves II and III of Add Health, as well as stress biomarkers from Wave IV. Analyses will examine sexual orientation disparities in biological markers of stress and disease risk, and evaluate the prospective associations between exposure to social stress and biological markers of disease among LGB young adults. This research provides an opportunity to develop a more comprehensive understanding of how the social context influences physiological regulatory systems to create and maintain health disparities within LGB populations, an important public health priority.