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Lori B Minority Health Feature WebFor those following along with our Minority Health Month researcher spotlights, we started the month by introducing you to Dr. Maria Pisu, who is pioneering research in EMOT-ECON (the relationship between the financial burden of disease and the effect it has on a person’s emotional well-being). Then, last week we showed you what Dr. Mona Fouad has been working on and the journey she took to get there.

Now, we want to introduce you to Lori Bateman, Ph.D., R.D., who is the principal investigator for YES! We Can Play. If you’re not familiar with the program, YES! We Can Play is working hard to solve a unique sports programming dilemma in Birmingham’s City Schools. In middle school, sixth-graders no longer have time for recess yet are ineligible to play on the sports teams offered to 7th and 8th-grade students. Additionally, many students don’t have access to the recreation or club sports that are available to wealthier families.

Dr. Bateman explains, “BCS students often live in communities that have limited, if any, informal physical activity options outside of school. This lack of opportunity may lead to sixth-graders dropping out of sports participation altogether. This gap is particularly concerning since the transition between middle and high school is associated with less physical activity, which is a health issue that must be addressed.”

To get a better sense of what drives Dr. Bateman to advocate for minority health and closing the gap in health disparities, we decided to interview her.

Q: Tell me a little about yourself. Where did you grow up?
Dr. Bateman: I grew up in lots of different places. I’ve lived in both the East and Midwest. When I was 12, my parents moved to Atlanta, so that’s where I consider home now.

Q: Where did you attend undergraduate, and what degree were you pursuing? What about graduate school and your doctoral program?
Dr. Bateman: I’ve been to many universities over the years, but the first one I attended was Carson Newman College in Tennessee. Here is where I received my Bachelor of Arts in Nutrition and Dietetics.

After Carson Newman, I went to Baylor University in Waco, Texas, to earn my Master of Science in Education and a Master of Arts in Religion.

Most recently, in 2014, I received my doctorate in Medical Sociology from UAB.

Q: What brought you to UAB?
Dr. Bateman: The Medical Sociology program brought me to UAB. It is one of the only medical sociology doctoral programs in the country. When I graduated, I was hired by Dr. Mona Fouad as a postdoctoral scholar, and am fortunate that I have had the opportunity to stay here in the Division of Preventive Medicine.

Q: When did your interest in health disparities start?
Dr. Bateman: My passion for health disparities began pretty early in my career. It was actually my first job at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.

While working in the diabetes clinic at Grady, I was also working for a chain of health clubs that served a very affluent market that mainly consisted of women. Going from one location to the other, I was able to truly see the disparities and the resources each demographic had to care for their health. Being in Atlanta, there is a large gap between those in underserved communities and those who have every resource at their disposal.

On one end, people were living with diabetes and needed assistance or additional resources. At the other end of the spectrum, some people just wanted to lose weight. Each of these sides experiences a cumulative disadvantage or cumulative advantage—depending on what side they fall. When you’re born into and under resourced environment, disadvantages can continue to build up—generation after generation.

Similarly, with my experience as a registered dietitian, I did a lot of one-on-one nutrition counseling. Through this, I saw people unable to make the changes they needed to be healthy on an individual level. They were having real difficulty. Studies show that about 95% of people who lose weight gain it back.

This drove me to really start looking at the social determinates of health, which are crucial to understanding the bigger picture.

Q: Besides YES! We Can Play, what else are you working on now?
Dr. Bateman: So many programs! One of them we are getting ready to launch is a grant from the Department of Justice. In this study, we are looking at violence as a social determinant of health, specifically in Bessemer. If people live in an unsafe neighborhood, their perceptions of that violence—whether it happens to them or not—can impact their health.

We worked with the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) to write the grant. So far, we’ve already interviewed 20 people from different groups, such as victims of crime, residents, law enforcement, etc. Based on the interviews and other formative assessments that are underway, we will be working with the community to design a crime prevention program.

Another program I’m working on is actually in Egypt. Currently, Egypt doesn’t have any colorectal cancer screening guidelines, and it has one of the highest rates of people under 40 years old dying from colorectal cancer. Once diagnosed, research indicates that life expectancy averages only two years, presumably due to the lack of screening to catch it earlier. To help, we’ve implemented a small pilot project intervention to address these issues.

Q: Do you have any advice for someone interested in pursuing a career in health disparities?
Dr. Bateman: When you think about health, always look beyond the individual. Be sure you ask, ‘what social determinants could be helping or hurting a patient?’ and ‘what can we do to reduce these gaps in resources?”