Health Dynamics & Disparities
Life Course Health Dynamics and Disparities project
Spending more on health doesn’t make us healthier.
America is one of the most unequal societies among industrial nations, with significant disparities in key areas such as education, income, and health. Where health is concerned, it is particularly ironic that we spend more in exchange for less healthy lives.
On the whole, we’re less healthy than other industrialized countries despite pouring more of our GDP into healthcare. And it may be getting worse for women and some low socio-economic status (SES) groups, for whom diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol are all on the rise.
These results suggest that non-medical factors are in play, and point to the need for a better understanding of the trends and dynamics that shape health and health disparities. For example, trends such as the growing rates of obesity and diabetes in the U.S. will have serious implications for escalating health costs, impairment, and loss of functionality as the population ages; this makes the need for a better understanding of the trends and dynamics all the more urgent.
A Growing Network
The Life Course Health Dynamics and Disparities project’s core group currently includes researchers from the University of Michigan and from other universities with expertise in sociology, psychology, demography, social epidemiology, social gerontology, economics, geriatrics, and medicine. The Network is still fairly new so the membership may yet grow larger. So far, four planning and organizing events have been held:
- On March 14, 2011 the first official meeting of the Network was held in Los Angeles, hosted by the Andrus Gerontology Center at the University of Southern California. This kickoff event explored potential focal issues and questions concerning changing social conditions in America and impacts upon health, and the group decided upon a set of key objectives to pursue.
- A follow-up meeting, with a slightly enlarged membership, took place June 28-29, 2011 on the University of Michigan campus. This meeting began the process of laying out for examination emerging health trends and disparities, mediating and moderating factors, plus projected consequences for health dynamics over the life course.
- On September 12-13, 2011, the Network’s core members met in New York City, hosted by the Russell Sage Foundation. The agenda laid out a multifaceted perspective on the subject, underscoring both the complexity of the topic as well as some of the opportunities to gather and mine existing data to shed more light on health dynamics and disparities.
- Most recently, a meeting took place in Ann Arbor May 31, 2012. Five new members participated, and a new node of project activity has been added – the University of Texas, Austin (complimenting the original U-M and Southern California nodes). Next steps include preparation and submission of a proposal for funding.
How, why and what’s next?
This CARSS supported project will explore the issues from a life course perspective, and attempt to fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge about the “demand” side (need for and utilization) of medical services – as contrasted to the more common focus upon the “supply” side (access to and availability) of medical services.
Some examples of questions that need to be explored and answered better include:
- Are there age, cohort or life course differences in U.S. trends and disparities in health?
- How do psychosocial factors mediate the SES and health or the gender-health relationship?
- How has work-family conflict changed over time, for whom has it changed, and with what impact on health?
- How should we approach the measurement of health to better understand emerging trends and disparities?
- What do emerging trends and disparities mean for health costs in the years ahead, and what interventions and/or policy changes will help control rising health care costs?
Answers to these and similar questions will have significant implications as a large segment of the U.S. population moves into its mid-60s.