Social Epidemiology

a big crowd of people

Social epidemiology seeks to understand the ways in which social, political, cultural and economic circumstances influence our chances for a healthy life. Theory from the social sciences is combined with rigorous epidemiological methods to highlight the connections between social factors and health and use what is found to improve health. Many of our faculty have a special interest in social inequalities and health disparities.

There are many interdisciplinary collaborations between researchers within the School of Public Health, across the university and those elsewhere across multiple disciplines.

HealthPop: A geocoding, spatial workflow and contextual data integration platform
Michael Oakes

HealthPop creates a free publicly-available data infrastructure that will improve the quality of spatial and contextual health analyses by: reducing costs, maximizing transparency, and minimizing redundant effort. In essence, this project will democratize contextual and spatial data by substantially lowering the barriers to innovative public health analyses for researchers and practitioners.


Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Interdisciplinary research leaders program
Michael Oakes

This innovative national program was established to recruit, train, fund, and support scholars interested in up-tempo, interdisciplinary and intersectoral, community-based, and action-oriented health research. The program accepts 60 scholars per year for a 3-year supported program. The goal is to enhance the interdisciplinary capacity of new and established scholars and generate practicable research. Read more about this program


Impacts of later high school start times on adolescent weight and weight-related behavior
Rachel Widome

This project seeks to clarify how sleep relates to weight gain and weight-related behaviors (eating, physical activity, etc.) among adolescents, as well as provide evidence for whether delayed high school start times can minimize unhealthy weight gain in children. This project is relevant to the NIH’s mission because discovery of policy options that can minimize childhood obesity risk can enhance health and reduce illness and disability.


Communities invested in healthy life trajectories of African American boys
Sonya Brady

The goal of this project is to develop community coalitions to promote the well-being and future success of African American boys and other youth. Coalitions are in two locations – St. Paul, Minn. and Birmingham, Ala. – and include parents, teachers, students, and community members. They follow the Communities that Care (CTC) model to fulfill their vision for the community. Coalition members will identify community strengths and areas for improvement that will inform a community action plan. They will also collect data to evaluate how youth and families benefit from coalition activities.


Health, neighborhood context and mobility
Theresa Osypuk

The goal of this project, funded by an NIH R01 grant, is to understand whether receipt of a housing voucher — part of a residential mobility experiment — improved economic and health outcomes among low income families. 2.0: An indicator and policy analysis project to advance a national-to-local child racial ethnic equity agenda
Theresa Osypuk

This translational project will support the second phase of development of, a state-of-the-art research and data indicator project created to advance child racial/ethnic child equity, among policy makers, advocates, researchers and the general public. The project is designed to meet the urgent need for a national, integrated information source that helps us understand:

  1. Who our children are, by documenting and tracking the rapidly changing demographics of children and families in the US;
  2. What our children need, by establishing a system for monitoring not only child outcomes, but also key factors (including opportunities, conditions and resources) that drive child outcomes;
  3. How to improve opportunities for all children, especially those that may need the most help, by focusing explicitly and rigorously on issues of racial/ethnic and socioeconomic equity in child health and wellbeing.

The website provides indicators on children’s well-being based on social determinants of health and health derived from national data, at several levels of geography and by race/ethnicity. It also provides equity policy analyses for policies that support children and families.

The project is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and led by Dr. Dolores Acevedo-Garcia at Brandeis University Heller School of Social Policy.


Mediators and moderators of a neighborhood experiment on alcohol use
Theresa Osypuk

This project applies novel methods for mediation and effect modification to understand how a housing voucher experiment influenced the neighborhood and housing environments of low income families. It also studies subsequently affected alcohol use, excessive drinking, and alcohol dependence of adolescents and their mothers.


Racism, residential racial segregation, and breast cancer survival disparities among black, hispanic, and non-hispanic white women
Theresa Osypuk

Racial and ethnic disparities in breast cancer survival are significant and persistent, and the size of these disparities varies geographically across the U.S. Racism and racial residential segregation are widely considered to contribute to health disparities and may partially explain geographical variation in the size of breast cancer survival disparities.

This national project studies segregation and breast cancer survival among Black, Hispanic, and non-Hispanic women by: constructing and comparing segregation measures; determining whether segregation is associated with survival and via which pathways; and exploring the ways in which Black and Hispanic breast cancer survivors in highly segregated metropolitan areas navigate cancer survivorship in the context of segregation.


Linking 1940 U.S. census data to five modern surveys of health and aging
Theresa Osypuk

The goals of this NIH R01-funded proposed research, led by Dr. John Robert Warren at the University of Minnesota Department of Sociology, are to:

  • Link 1940 Census records to five prospective cohort studies;
  • Construct individual-, household/family- and neighborhood-level social and economic variables from 1940 Census records measuring early-life context;
  • Document and disseminate these measures for data users; and
  • Test the validity of retrospectively measured early-life socioeconomic status survey measures by comparing them to the 1940 Census-derived measures.


Building the Minnesota population database
Theresa Osypuk

This pilot project, funded by the University of Minnesota, proposes to create the Minnesota Population Database (MNPDB) to collect, link, and grant controlled access to comprehensive state and federal data on Minnesota residents.

Adverse Childhood Experiences and Obesity in Emerging Adults: Mixed Methods Study
Susan Mason

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), including childhood abuse and parental mental illness, affect 60% of emerging adults and are associated with significantly increased risks of obesity and obesity-related disease. Interventions that can reduce the risk of obesity in emerging adults with ACEs would have important public health impacts, but to move toward intervention development and testing, we need to first answer fundamental questions about who should be the focus of intervention, what psychological and behavioral risk factors need to be addressed, and what type of interventions would be acceptable/desirable to emerging adults with ACEs. This research will answer these questions, providing formative knowledge to advance toward optimization and tailoring of interventions to reduce obesity risk in the 18 million emerging adults with ACEs.

Maternal Early Adversities and Weight during Childbearing
Susan Mason

Maternal weight problems during childbearing, including pre-pregnancy overweight/obesity and excessive pregnancy weight gain, represent a significant threat to public health. Women who were exposed to early life adversities (e.g., childhood abuse, neglect, or food insufficiency) appear to be at increased risk for maternal weight problems. This project will investigate the pathways between early life adversities and maternal weight problems to identify modifiable intermediate factors that can be targeted in public health interventions.

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