Baylor receives NIH funding to examine structural racism and perinatal health disparities
Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Southern University (TSU) and UTHealth Houston will receive $2.6 million from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Development to examine the impact of neighborhood-level metrics of structural racism across different domains on disparities in maternal and infant health in the greater Houston area.
Women of color have higher rates of poor pregnancy outcomes than non-Hispanic whites in the U.S. Black women bear the largest burden of preterm birth, and both Hispanic and Black women experience higher risks of maternal morbidities such as hypertension in pregnancy and gestational diabetes. Adverse perinatal outcomes have high societal and economic costs and impact the health of a mother and their infant throughout the life course.
“Building on Baylor’s Program in Population and Environmental Health Disparities, we are ecstatic to continue collaborations with colleagues at the Center for Justice Research at TSU and in the McGovern Medical School and School of Public Health at UTHealth Houston who bring complementary and transdisciplinary expertise to conduct this important work,” said Dr. Elaine Symanski, professor in the Center for Precision Environmental Health and the Margaret M. and Albert B. Alkek Department of Medicine at Baylor and co-principal investigator of the project.
In this project, investigators will leverage electronic health records data from women who delivered an infant in the greater Houston area to better understand how characteristics of women’s neighborhoods – such as environmental exposure burden, racial and economic polarization, crime, discrimination in mortgage lending practices and lack of access to healthy foods – impact perinatal health outcomes both independently and in combination with one another. Investigators plan to apply epidemiologic methods as well as machine learning approaches to answer their research questions.
“In accomplishing our main objectives, we hope to enhance our understanding of the complex interplay of key structural racism drivers of racial and ethnic perinatal health disparities,” said co-principal investigator Dr. Kristina Whitworth, associate professor in the Center for Precision Environmental Health and the Margaret M. and Albert B. Alkek Department of Medicine.
Ultimately, investigators hope that knowledge gained through this research project will inform efforts to improve perinatal health among women of color in the greater Houston area, which is home to the most diverse population in the U.S.