On May 25, the National Institutes of Health announced a partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to fund five new research centers to improve health in communities overburdened by pollution and other environmental factors that contribute to health disparities.
Within each center, scientists will partner with community organizations to study these concerns and develop culturally appropriate ways to reduce exposure to harmful environmental conditions.
The Centers of Excellence on Environmental Health Disparities Research(https://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/supported/centers/ehd/index.cfm) are jointly funded by NIEHS, the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), and the National Center for Environmental Research at EPA. The new centers, funded by five-year grants, are an expansion of a successful pilot program originally started by NIMHD and EPA.
Studying health stressors and environment
The centers will examine a range of stressors on health, including air, water, and ground pollution as well as conditions such as substandard housing, poor diet, and adverse social dynamics.
“More than a decade of NIH research has shown that low-income, minority and tribal communities experience higher levels of environmental pollution in the United States, and that these populations often have poorer health,” said Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., director of NIEHS and the National Toxicology Program. “It is important to understand modifiable influences on health, such as environmental, behavioral, and lifestyle changes, so that we can improve health and well-being.”
Community partners will collaborate with scientists to define research questions, recruit study participants, and collect data. Additionally, partners will help translate research results into strategies to address existing health issues and prevent harmful exposures.
“This joint effort between the NIH and EPA is an important step in stimulating research to identify how complex interactions between social, natural, biological, and built environments influence health of vulnerable populations,” said Eliseo Perez-Stable, M.D., NIMHD director. “The knowledge gained from this research will provide critical information to alleviate environmentally driven health disparities and improve the health of those that are impacted.”
Five centers located at U.S. universities
The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, led by Francine Laden, Sc.D., and Jonathan Levy, Sc.D., will study how housing conditions may affect birth weight, childhood growth trajectories, and risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and whether improved urban housing may benefit health.
Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, led by Nadia Hansel, M.D., will compare urban and rural effects of poverty on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and the impact of improved dietary intake on preventing or mitigating disease progression.
The University of Arizona, Tucson, led by Jeff Burgess, M.D., and Stephanie Rainie, Dr.P.H., will work with indigenous populations to examine chemical contamination of traditional foods, water, air, and household environments, and increase environmental health literacy.
The University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, led by Johnnye Lewis, Ph.D., and Melissa Gonzales, Ph.D., will examine how contact with metal mixtures from abandoned mines affects rural Native American populations through exposures related to inadequate drinking water infrastructure, reliance on local foods, and other uses of local resources to maintain their traditional lifestyle and culture.
The University of Southern California, Los Angeles, led by Frank Gilliland, M.D., Ph.D., and Carrie Breton, Sc.D., will study how environmental factors may contribute to childhood obesity and excessive weight gain during pregnancy in Hispanic and Latino communities.
(This story is based on an NIH press release.)