April 2021: Study to examine the effect of police violence on the birth outcomes for Black infants

Associate Professor Rachel Hardeman has launched a first-of-its-kind, five-year study to investigate the association between racialized police violence and the occurrence of preterm birth and low birth weight among Black infants. 


MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (04/14/21) — Black women in the U.S. are twice as likely to experience a preterm birth, a low birth weight infant, or the death of a child before age one compared to white women. This racialized pattern of adverse reproductive outcomes has endured for as far back as scientists are able to study. The intractability of this problem suggests the root cause is structural racism — the ways in which societies foster discrimination by reinforcing inequitable systems that in turn reinforce discriminatory beliefs, values, and distribution of resources. Minnesota Population Center member and University of Minnesota School of Public Health Associate Professor Rachel Hardeman has launched a five-year study to investigate the association between a specific, pervasive form of structural racism — racialized police violence — and the occurrence of preterm birth (PTB) and low birth weight (LBW) among Black infants. 

This first-of-its-kind study is funded by a $1.8 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Study Principal Investigator and Associate Professor Rachel Hardeman.
Study Principal Investigator and Associate Professor Rachel Hardeman.

Hardeman is the school’s Blue Cross Endowed Professor of Health and Racial Equity in the Division of Health Policy and Management and founding director of the Center for Antiracism Research for Health Equity. For this study, Hardeman is partnering with the University’s Minnesota Population Center, where she leads the organization’s structural racism research arm.

“My earlier research assessing racialized police violence as a form of stress for Black women of reproductive age demonstrates that the unpredictable but persistent possibility of racialized police violence in one’s community is a debilitating burden disproportionately borne by Black women and their families,” says Hardeman. “I recently found that simply living in a neighborhood that experiences high levels of police contact is significantly associated with PTB for Black and white women.”

Hardeman’s new study has three aims:

  1. Quantify the risk of PTB and LBW related to spatial and social proximity to the killing of a Black man by police and the ensuing civil unrest. Researchers will examine records from the Minnesota Department of Health to assess if Black women experienced worse birth outcomes following the 2016 killing of Philando Castile by police in Falcon Heights, MN, and the subsequent civil unrest. Scientists will also assess if living or working near the site of the incident and civil unrest increased risk for worse birth outcomes among all women.
  2. Quantify the impact of police violence on PTB and LBW risk among Black women. The researchers will examine 13 years of birth records available from every county in the U.S. to assess if incidents of police violence across the country are associated with greater risk for PTB and LBW among Black women. 
  3. Describe how the experience of racialized police violence impacts Black women during pregnancy. Researchers will survey and interview a cohort of 200 Black women who were pregnant and living in two communities with incidents of high-profile police violence — Twin Cities, MN, and Baton Rouge, LA — to assess psychosocial stress related to police violence. 

Hardeman plans to announce the results of the research as they become available over the next five years. The findings will be shared through journal and news articles, conferences, policy briefings and reports, and community presentations. The results will be needed by healthcare delivery systems, community organizations, and policy makers to inform efforts for ensuring reproductive health equity.

“The findings will offer a more complete picture of the ways that community trauma, structural racism, individual-level physical and mental health consequences, and population-level disparities affect reproductive health outcomes,” says Hardeman. “Our understanding will be grounded in the everyday experiences of Black women. This approach is essential to developing effective public health strategies that disrupt the pathways from racialized police violence to population health inequity and advance the goal of preventing pregnancy-related complications and reducing maternal and infant death.”

March 2021: John Robert Warren elected to the National Academy of Education

John Robert “Rob” Warren, Director of the Minnesota Population Center and Professor in the Department of Sociology, has been elected to the National Academy of Education (NAEd).  The NAEd's mission is to advance "high-quality research to improve education policy and practice;" it undertakes research studies to address pressing educational issues and administers professional development  fellowship programs to enhance the preparation of the next generation of education scholars.

Professor Warren is a sociologist, demographer, population health scholar, and education policy researcher. His recent research focuses on the ways in which childhood (dis)advantages, racism, education, and work interact across the life course to shape older people’s health and cognition. With $28 million in support from the National Institutes of Health, he is currently co-directing the  High School and Beyond (HS&B) cohort study. HS&B began as a foundational education study in the late 1970s and is now an important data resource for understanding how early life conditions and education intersect with biological factors to impact cognitive and health outcomes in later life.

"I am honored to be elected, but I am even more excited to join the National Academy of Education’s efforts to improve educational practices and policies and to train the next generation of education researchers.," says Warren.

This year, 22 scholars were elected to membership in the Academy from across the United States.

"Professor Warren has long been a leader--in our department, at the University of Minnesota, and in the discipline of sociology writ large--in research and thought on education, stratification, and human health and well-being across the life-course,” says Sociology Chair Douglas Hartmann. “It is gratifying to see his multifaceted contributions be recognized, and exciting to anticipate how his expertise will now enrich the Academy and national education community as well."


March 2021: Newly funded research will use biomarkers from blood to understand how childhood shapes risks of Alzheimer's and other dementias

March 2, 2021

The University of Minnesota announced today it will begin collecting blood samples from a diverse sample of 25,520 people around the country to better understand how early-life conditions and experiences shape later-life risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

The research, supported by $14.2 million in new funding from the National Institute on Aging (NIA), adds a new component to the ongoing $28.4 million High School & Beyond (HS&B) cohort study and builds upon a $500,000 pilot study funded by the Alzheimer’s Association in 2020.
The project, based at the University’s Minnesota Population Center (MPC), brings together an interdisciplinary team of leading neurologists, sociologists, education scientists, neuropathologists, and survey methodologists from around the country. A goal of the newly-funded component of the project is to understand the biological pathways through which health inequities in cognitive impairment form.

“There is growing evidence that racial/ethnic and socioeconomic inequalities in rates of late-life dementia have roots in inequalities in educational opportunities and experiences, childhood economic circumstances, and other early-life conditions,” said grant principal investigator Dr. John Robert Warren, professor of sociology in the College of Liberal Arts, HS&B project co-director, and MPC director. “This new component of the project will help us better understand the ways in which these early life inequalities ‘get under the skin’ to impact cognition down the road.”
The research team will collect blood samples from over 25,000 surviving members of the HS&B cohort—a nationally representative group of people who have been interviewed on several occasions since they were high school students in 1980—to look for markers of neuropathology that are evident in blood years before people show signs of dementia. While HS&B panelists will be in their late 50s when samples are collected, and Alzheimer's disease is rare at this age, milder forms of cognitive impairment are likely to be more common among the cohort and may foreshadow the later development of more serious impairments. Some scientists believe there are markers in the blood that indicate Alzheimer's disease years before people become symptomatic. The samples themselves will also be stored for future analysis and research. The blood samples will be assayed and stored at the University’s Advanced Research and Diagnostics Laboratory. The assay work will be led by U of M Associate Professor of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology Bharat Thyagarajan.
The biomarker data is just one part of the larger picture. Using a combination of surveys, cognitive tests, blood- and saliva-based biomarkers, and administrative data, the team will examine how social and educational disparities in adolescence lead to racial and ethnic differences in cognitive impairment at midlife. The team wants to examine how these effects manifest over the course of a person’s life and how educational and social advantages may help people genetically predisposed toward dementia delay or avoid its onset. Ultimately, the researchers aim to inform efforts to develop proactive strategies that reduce cognitive impairments among older people.

The HS&B project is led by Dr. Warren (University of Minnesota), Dr. Chandra Muller (University of Texas at Austin), Dr. Eric Grodsky (University of Wisconsin-Madison), and Dr. Jennifer Manly (Columbia University). Dr. Ryan Demmer (University of Minnesota School of Public Health) is leading the microbiome portion of the study.

Alzheimer’s disease, an irreversible brain disorder that slowly inhibits memory and thinking skills, is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Alzheimer’s Association. About 5.8 million Americans are currently living with the disease, and that number is projected to grow to nearly 14 million by 2050. Worldwide, approximately 50 million people live with some form of dementia. 
Population health research is a primary focus of MPC, a University-wide center that supports interdisciplinary population dynamics research. MPC provides an intellectual home and a high level of research support to roughly 200 faculty, staff, and graduate students at the University. 

This research is supported by the National Institute On Aging of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R01AG058719.

Coverage from MPR News

See the University of Minnesota's press release >

January 2021: Examining associations between poor marital functioning and stress eating behaviors that exacerbate weight gain

Stress eating contributes to being overweight. MPC Member Chalandra Bryant’s new project addresses the need for a shift in current thinking about (and to change current approaches to) programs aimed at reducing the risk for being over-weight and obese. Although stress is intricately tied to obesity, to date the implementation and evaluation of obesity prevention/intervention programs have been limited by ignoring potential proximal stressors such as family relations. Outdated paradigms fail to acknowledge how integral subsystems within the family can serve as agents for promoting or inhibiting stress, which in turn may exacerbate or ameliorate weight gain. This study differs greatly from studies of weight/obesity that focus on helping families prepare healthy meals together or even exercise together. Such studies, by their nature/structure, are working with family members who have positive relationships. This is the critical difference of this study: it focuses on couples experiencing relational discord. The goal is to examine associations between poor marital functioning, affect, and stress eating behaviors. Because African American’s report higher rates of marital dissatisfaction, including thinking about divorce, and higher rates of obesity than their White peers, the project will focus on this population. The researchers will test the effect that two competing interventions--(1) PREP, Prevention & Relationship Enhancement Program and (2) Virtual Reality (VR) Exposure to Nature--have on those associations. To accomplish this goal, they will collect pre- and post-intervention data about marital functioning, affect, and emotion-driven stress eating. Data will be collected in the form of questionnaires and ecological momentary assessments.

This project is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation


December 2020: Failing the Least Advantaged: An Unintended Consequence of Local Implementation of the Housing Choice Voucher Program

Housing Policy Debate

New research from MPC Postdoc Huiyun Kim argues that local administrative practices of managing a waitlist disadvantage residentially unstable applicants. Further, Dr. Kim's analysis reveals that among those who are income-eligible for program participation, poorer individuals have a greater likelihood of experiencing residential instability, thus compounding their disadvantage in the competition for a housing voucher. Read more in Housing Policy Debate.