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Funded Research

Neighborhood Context, Social Relationships, and Health: Examining the Pathways

This is a proposed subcontract to the University of Michigan from the University of Sourthern California for the purpose of utilizing staff from the University of Michigan to collaborate with Dr. Jennifer Ailshire (formerly of Univ. of MI) on secondary data analysis.

Dr. Ailshire’s long term objective of this award is to extend existing knowledge of how social environments `get under the skin? to influence health by elucidating the complex associations between the neighborhood environment and interpersonal relationships and how they affect health across the life course. Understanding how experiences in the social environment are translated into health risks, however, requires clarification of the biological processes that link social environments to health. She will pursue a program of training and research that will add necessary knowledge of biological models of aging to her current expertise in demographic health research.

The purpose of this research is to examine the links among the neighborhood social and physical environment, social engagement, and biological markers of multi-system physiological functioning with the objective of gaining new knowledge about how the environments in which older adults live `get under the skin? and influence health and longevity. The proposal is highly significant because communities play a vital role in shaping health and well-being, particularly among older adults who rely on their immediate neighborhood for meeting daily needs. Yet, the pathways linking neighborhoods to health among older adults are not well understood. This project will provide an enhanced understanding of the complex, multilevel determinants of the aging experience. The aims of this project are three-fold: 1) to determine which features of the neighborhood environment promote social engagement among residents; 2) to identify the effects of social engagement on multi-system physiological functioning; and 3) to examine the pathways linking neighborhoods, social engagement, and physiological dysregulation.

The research objectives will be investigated through a program of secondary data analysis with several existing population-based data sets (Chicago Community Adult Health Study, Health and Retirement Study, and National Survey of Midlife Development in the U.S.), all of which integrate information on neighborhood context, psychosocial factors, and biomarkers. A combination of generalized linear models and multilevel methods will be used to conduct the analyses outlined in the specific aims. The skills needed to understand how biopsychosocial processes link neighborhoods and social engagement to health, which are necessary for this research, will be obtained as a key component of the K99 mentoring plan. The candidate will draw on a broad range of resources and training opportunities throughout the University of Southern California Andrus Gerontology Center and elsewhere to obtain the necessary skills to pursue a research career that integrates multilevel information on neighborhoods, social relationships, and biological disease processes into existing models of aging, which have traditionally focused on factors at the individual level. The R00 phase will allow the candidate the time needed to complete the research plan under the guidance of the candidate?s K99 mentors, and to submit an R01 proposal to examine how the neighborhood environment and social relationships combine and interact to shape health trajectories over the life course and the extent to which differences in the pathways linking neighborhoods and psychosocial factors to health account for socioeconomic and racial/ethnic disparities in health trajectories. The four-year grant support will ensure success in her endeavor.

Robert Melendez from the Univ. of MI will work with Dr. Ailshire (PI) to create and manage spatial data for this project. Secondary data sources will be used (e.g., census, city parks data, proprietary business data, and stree


University of Southern California

Funding Period:

04/01/2012 to 03/31/2013