Social Dimensions of Health

Home and the Family Cambodia selects_Page_29Teresa Seeman has been at the forefront of tracing the potential consequences of life circumstances on physiological systems and testing them empirically.  She is widely known for her work on the MacArthur Study of Healthy Aging, but also has examined these issues using other studies.  At CCPR, she collaborates, among others, with Anne Pebley and Narayan Sastry (Michigan) on the collection and analysis of stress, health, and pre-disease biomarkers in L.A.FANS, with Donald Treiman and Peifeng Perry Hu on biomarkers for a survey of adults in China, and with Carol Aneshensel on depression in the elderly. Seeman’s research focuses on physiological wear and tear or “allostatic load.”  For example, with Arun Karlamangla, CCPR alumnus Esther Friedman, and Shelley Taylor (UCLA), she uses data from the National Study of Midlife Development in the US and the National Study of Daily Experience to examine the relationship between parental affection experienced in childhood and adult diurnal cortisol rhythms, an indicator of allostatic load.  Contrary to previous research, they find evidence of greater problems (i.e., HPA axis dysregulation) for adults who grew up in both very affectionate and very unaffectionate families, suggesting that both extremes have negative consequences for psychophysiological function and health in adulthood.

Robert Jensen and Rebecca Thornton (Michigan) have examined the health consequences of early marriage for women and girls in poor countries.  Using data from Demographic and Health Surveys in nearly 100 countries, they find that women who marry before age 15 receive an average of four years less education, begin childrearing several years earlier, have less decision-making power in the household, and are more than twice as likely to experience domestic violence, than women who marry later.

May Wang’s and Gail Harrison’s research on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) examines potential unintended consequences of, and changes in, this federally-funded program.  Wang is investigating whether WIC child participants age 2-5 years old in Los Angeles have increased risk of obesity if they live in neighborhoods where healthy foods are not readily accessible. Harrison and colleagues’ 2008 study published in the American Journal of Public Health helped to provide the empirical underpinnings for the significant USDA policy change to add fruits and vegetables to the WIC food package, implemented in October 2009.