November 20, 2017

Community researchers join scientists to study impact of social determinants on health

Written by

community researchersIt is not often that members of a community collaborate with academic investigators on scientific publications, but with support from the Mid-South Transdisciplinary Collaborative Center for Health Disparities Research, some community research partners will see their research published in the journal Ethnicity & Disease.

In a special issue of the journal, academic and community partners report on the processes, experiences and findings of innovative interventions jointly designed and successfully implemented by academic investigators representing multiple disciplines and community partners from a wide array of organizations. The results of this unique approach fill a gap in the scientific literature where the insights, perspectives and experiences of community research partners are often lacking.

“It is vitally important for researchers to listen to the voices of the community,” said Mona Fouad, M.D., lead principal investigator and director and professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Division of Preventive Medicine. “The Mid-South TCC’s regional approach to collaboration — made possible by our extensive partnerships and infrastructure — has enabled us not only to examine the common factors, such as neighborhood characteristics, poverty and food access that influence health across geographic areas, but to work with community partners to gather their insights. This approach takes social determinants of health research beyond individual communities and demonstrates the importance of community collaboration.”

One of the successful Mid-South TCC collaborators is Birmingham’s Zyp Bikeshare. 

“It is vitally important for researchers to listen to the voices of the community.”

“Zyp, like any bikeshare, is a data-driven organization,” said Zyp Operations Coordinator Olivia Hart. “But as a small nonprofit, we lack the resources for sophisticated analysis of this data. Collaborating with Dr. Gabriela Oates and UAB provides us with results we can actually use to drive decision-making, prove efficacy and add impact to funding applications — all of which directly benefit our community.”

Significant research findings in Ethnicity & Disease include:

  • Bikeshare use in urban communities: individual and neighborhood factors. The authors report that higher neighborhood socio-economic disadvantage is associated with higher Bikeshare use, concluding that Bikeshare is a viable transportation option in low-resource neighborhoods and may be an effective tool to improve the connectivity, livability and health of urban communities.
  • Empowering one community at a time for policy, system and environmental changes (PSE) to impact obesity. Because communities where the mayor is actively involved in health initiatives enjoy important benefits, the Mid-South TCC — in partnership with the Arkansas Coalition for Obesity Prevention — has empowered communities to make long-term sustainable changes through the Mayors Mentoring Mayors program. This innovative initiative was expanded from Arkansas to five Mid-South TCC states and provides an opportunity for mayors, other elected officials and stakeholders to confront obesity in their communities by addressing the PSE strategies most relevant to them.
  • Incentivizing fruit and vegetable purchasers at fresh markets in lower 9th Ward, New Orleans. This study tackles how barriers to buying fresh produce could be removed by providing monetary incentives to a low-income minority community. The authors report that monetary incentives were associated with increased fruit and vegetable purchases.

According to the associate editor of Ethnicity & Disease Luisa Borrell, DDS, the academic-community partnerships led by the Mid-South TCC have not only underscored the role of the social determinants of health in these communities, but also empowered them to organize and advocate for their members.

“The research findings published in this special supplement can serve as a model for other institutions and communities to join efforts to address health inequities through the use of the social determinants of the health model,” she said.

Leading the Mid-South TCC research are principal investigators Fouad and Edward Partridge, M.D., both of the University of Alabama at Birmingham; Mario Sims, Ph.D., University of Mississippi Medical Center; Marinelle Payton, M.D., Jackson State University; and Lucio Miele, M.D., and Richard Scribner, M.D., both of Louisiana State University.

There are more than 120 Mid-South TCC community partners. Those who appear as authors on publications include Zyp Bikeshare (Alabama), the Kingston Coalition (Alabama), The Hollygrove Market (Louisiana), Daughters of Charity (Louisiana), Sankofa Community Development Inc. (Louisiana), Gentilly Community/Dillard University Office of Community Relations (Louisiana), and Arkansas Coalition for Obesity Prevention/Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance (Arkansas).