Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Grant aids Fletcher study on early contextual contributors to adult health

Grant aids Fletcher study on early contextual contributors to adult health

La Follette School Professor Jason Fletcher is the principal investigator for a $300,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) supporting research on the impacts of children’s neighborhoods on racial disparities in adult health outcomes.

Fletcher’s research with Associate Professor of Sociology Felix Elwert and Stephanie Robert, School of Social Work professor and director, will combine theory and methods from economics, sociology, biostatistics, and public health. It also will use two longitudinal nationally representative data sets with geographically informative samples who have been prospectively followed from childhood through adulthood.

“This combination of unique data sets with methods across disciplines allows us to ask if the total impacts of childhood contextual factors in determining various measures of adult health status differ between race and ethnic groups,” Fletcher said.

The project’s goals are to:

  • estimate geographically informed correlations in health status for black, Hispanic, and white adults in a large prospective sample from the United States
  • develop bounds for estimates of pair-correlations for samples with incomplete information on residential history

The first goal will provide comparative evidence of the importance of childhood context in producing black/white and Hispanic/white disparities in adult health across a broad set of physical and mental health conditions, including obesity, cardiovascular risk, and mental health using the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health data.

The key idea is that comparing correlations in adult health outcomes between pairs of individuals who grew up in close proximity (to those who did not) allows estimates of plausible upper bounds of the influence of “total” early contextual contributors to adult health. While this method is a standard approach in economic and demographic models of earnings and education inequality, the researchers extend this method to study measures of adult health and provide new evidence on the potential childhood contextual sources of racial disparities in adult health.