Social Determinants of Health
In 2008, the World Health Organization’s Commission on Social Determinants of Health declared that “social justice is a matter of life and death.” A person’s degree of social advantage or disadvantage–which includes factors like socioeconomic status, education, employment neighborhood and environment, and access to health care–has a profound impact on personal health and life expectancy. For those living in the United States, this means that a person’s childhood zipcode can accurately predict their overall success in life.
The College of Education and Human Development at the University of Delaware values diversity, inclusion and the promotion of positive human development within the rapidly changing global environment in which we live, and is an international leader in research on social determinants of health. Supported by grants and collaborative educational partnerships, our faculty have developed life-changing research on the ways in which an individual’s social and emotional well-being affects public health. Faculty research has influenced legislators and other policymakers on problems as wide-ranging as the prevalence of social stigmas related to substance abuse and sexually-transmitted disease, the effectiveness of sober living facilities and methadone clinics, as well as how a scarcity of grocery stores in historically marginalized communities contributes to food insecurity.
Can academic success be predicted before a child can speak? If so, what tools and interventions are available to help every child become a strong learner? Stephanie Del Tufo’s research is focused on understanding how individual differences in learning, language and literacy affect the growth and development of the human mind. As director of the Developmental and Aging Neuroscience Laboratory, Del Tufo has shown that the first signs of expressive language, or infant “babbling,” predicts reading/listening comprehension through fourth grade. For those children who are delayed, intervention before age 3 decreased the risk of poorer comprehension by 39% for those children later diagnosed with a speech or language disorder. Her research has also uncovered strong correlations between higher socioeconomic status and reading/listening comprehension through fourth grade, even when controlling for learning disabilities.
How can we improve health inequities by addressing stigma? Valerie Earnshaw’s research focuses on understanding and addressing the relationship between stigma and health inequities across the lifespan. She seeks to improve health outcomes through interventions to improve the wellbeing of vulnerable and at-risk children, youth, families and those living with chronic illnesses. Recent research topics include studying how school health professionals can be more effective in helping LGBTQ students who are bullied and how stigma impacts young people receiving treatment for substance use disorders. With the support of a National Institute of Mental Health grant, Earnshaw is currently developing an intervention to reduce clinician stigma and improve HIV outcomes.
What’s driving disparities in health outcomes between white and non-white patients? Heather Farmer’s research focuses on the intersections of race, gender, and socioeconomic status (SES) in producing health disparities in older adults. She has conducted longitudinal analyses of racial disparities in chronic disease physiology and outcomes using nationally-representative panel survey data on middle-aged and older adults in the Health and Retirement Study. Dr. Farmer is involved in several projects that are funded through the NIH, including as co-investigator on a REACH Equity Award that aims to examine racial disparities in 30-day readmission rates in older adults with cardiovascular disease.
Has the field of education lost the distinction between those who have a generalized level of cognitive impairment, which is often linked to social or biological factors, and those who have a cognitive impairment that is more specific to genetics? According to Michael Ferrari, if we examine the academic records of children and adolescents with learning disabilities in reading, math or writing, we find that many of the supposed symptoms of impairment can be attributed to social disadvantages such as school funding and resources, chronic absenteeism or access to quality health care.
In what ways does the food available in our community impact what we eat? How can policies and programs related to food in our communities improve the quality of our diets? Allison Karpyn’s research has shined a light on the ways in which food insecurity continues to threaten disadvantaged and historically marginalized communities. Food insecurity is a public health issue and a social determinant of health. For example, when a new supermarket moves into a low-income neighborhood, it not only provides access to healthy food at affordable prices, but also stimulates economic development, creating jobs. Her current research centers on the intersection of food security, health and education. Karpyn is interim director of UD’s Center for Research in Education and Social Policy (CRESP). Prior to joining UD, Karpyn spent 12 years with The Food Trust in Philadelphia.
How do we bridge LGBTQ+ developmental research and community impact through developmentally-informed, affirmative interventions? Eric Layland’s research areas include LGBTQ+ within-group differences in mental health and unhealthy substance use, the impact of stigma on LGBTQ+ development, strengths-based approaches to LGBTQ+ health and LGBTQ+ affirmative interventions. Through community partnerships and funding support from the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Layland has led and collaborated on several intervention evaluations.
How can we support the health and wellbeing of young adult mothers? Kate Riera’s doctoral research and dissertation focused on the health and wellbeing outcomes of adolescent and young adult mothers and their children. She examined the effects of social and family support. Her research interests include marginalized families, adolescent health and well-being and equitable and engaging teaching practices in family science. She teaches courses related to partnering effectively with individuals, youth, and families to improve their wellbeing and family functioning.
Funded Research & Engagement
Understanding the Impact of Economic Incentives at Farmers Markets for Low-Income Shoppers
PI: Allison Karpyn
University of Delaware Research Foundation
Understanding and Addressing Disclosure to Members of Social Networks among People Recovering from Substance Use Disorders
PI: Valerie Earnshaw
National Institute on Drug Abuse
Substance Use Disorder Recovery among Individuals Living in Recovery Residences
PI: Jennifer Carrano, Co-PI: Valerie Earnshaw
Realizing a Community’s Collective Impact to Improve Fruit and Vegetable Consumption
PI: Allison Karpyn
United States Department of Agriculture
Does a Supermarket Improve the Diet and Food Environment of Low-Income Residents?
PI: Allison Karpyn, Co-PI: Karen Glanz
National Institute of Health
Advisor: Jennifer Carrano
Ph.D. in Human Development & Family Sciences
Ginnie is currently working in partnership with two Delaware-based community organizations to examine the factors that facilitate substance use disorders recovery among individuals living in recovery residences.
In the News
In a recent study, UD Assistant Professor Heather Farmer, and Pennsylvania State University co-authors Linda Wray and Steven Haas, analyzed …
Where can families experiencing food insecurity buy healthy food and beverages? The answer to this question is more complicated than …
The World Health Organization calls the spread of false information about the coronavirus (COVID-19) an “infodemic,” and the results are …
Twelve University of Delaware professors, including three in the School of Education and one in the Department of Human Development …
Research Centers & Labs
CRESP conducts rigorous research, program evaluation, and policy analysis to help practitioners, policymakers, and the researchers better understand critical issues in education, community health, and human services.
The DANE Lab’s mission is to inspire learning, alleviate health disparities, and strengthen communities through literacy by studying how brain development during childhood and throughout adulthood impacts the mind.
Dr. Valerie Earnshaw’s research aims to understand and intervene in the relationship between stigma and health inequities. Work in her lab focuses on helping people at risk of or living with chronic illnesses including HIV, and members of other socially marginalized and devalued groups.