Health Equity Work Group

The Health Equity Work Group (formerly the Health Disparities Work Group) mission is to give greater visibility to health inequalities research at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and nationally; develop collaborations with faculty and community partners; and ensure SPH students are well trained to work in a diverse society.

The HEWG meets quarterly and welcomes new members.

HEWG Member Spotlight

Carrie Henning-Smith smiling

Faculty: Carrie Henning-Smith Ph.D., M.P.H., M.S.W.

Assistant Professor, Division of Health Policy and Management

The central goal of my research is to move toward health equity for all, with a particular focus on historically marginalized populations in order to illuminate structural barriers to health and well-being and practical policy solutions. Under this broad umbrella, my work falls into two distinct, but overlapping themes: 1.) illuminating disparities in health and access to care, especially for older adults and rural residents, and 2.) investigating the ways in which environment, from immediate living environment to broader geographical context, impacts health. A recent study led by myself, Professor Kay Kozhimannil, and Professor Ira Moscovice explored the relationship between social isolation and rurality. Social isolation and loneliness are increasingly being recognized as urgent public health threats, with risks to health and mortality as serious as those from obesity or smoking. Some researchers have cautioned that rural residents could be at greater risk for isolation due to the increased distances they must travel to visit their friends and family. Our study found that, on average, rural residents report more social relationships, but some rural residents are still at a much higher risk of being lonely. Racial and geographic disparities in loneliness should be addressed by policy and public health intervention. Relationships alone is not enough to protect rural resident form feeling lonely; more should be done to facilitate meaningful social connections.  

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My work has a special focus on society’s most vulnerable population at risk for violence (especially bullying) and injuries:  children, persons with disabilities, agricultural workers, minorities, and rural populations.

Some of my most recent work has brought attention to the lack of mental health care in farming communities and the high suicide and homicide rates in farmers. Farmers have a suicide rate that is three to five times higher than other occupations. Another area of my work is focused on violence prevention in children. We are currently assessing adverse child experiences and stress biomarkers in hair and toenail samples from children and parents of color in community settings. Based on my body of work, I developed Link in collaboration with experts in mental health and health communications. Link is a trauma-informed program of psychological first aid that uses motivational interviewing techniques (a culturally-sensitive method of communication). We are currently evaluating the effectiveness of Link in reducing the effects of trauma (e.g., suicide and externalizing behaviors), improving connectedness, and increasing resilience.

Student: Debbie Schnur

Debbie Schnur is planning to graduate in May 2019 with a Master of Public Health in Community Health Promotion and a minor in Health Equity. She has a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Minnesota. Prior to starting her second career in public health, she worked as an engineer and manager at Seagate Technology, supporting hard disc drive development and manufacturing. Debbie’s main career interests are food justice, nutrition, and global health. Her academic research with Professor Lisa Harnack focuses on the dietary preferences and challenges of older, lower socioeconomic status adults with heart failure. Debbie’s decision to pursue a Health Equity minor was sparked by two experiences during her MPH program. First, she attended the India: Global Health, Globalization, and Leadership course in Mysore, India, where she learned about women’s health inequities. While Indian women’s health is improving as the age of marriage increases and family size decreases, major gaps remain including high rates of maternal mortality, malnutrition, and anemia.

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She currently works at the Minnesota Department of Health on the Child and Adolescent Health team where she works on two adolescent sexual health grant programs. She has created Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month and Let’s Talk Month awareness materials as well as completed program evaluation and analyzed data for the grants she supports.

Caitlin has many public health areas she is passionate about including, but not limited to, childhood obesity, women’s reproductive health, management of chronic illnesses, nutrition, and global health. After graduation Caitlin would love to work in advancing health equity, breaking down barriers currently present through program development and implementation.

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