Dr. Kerry Green, associate professor of behavioral and community health at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, has received a 5 year R01 grant totaling over $3 million from the National Institute on Aging for a unique study titled, “Understanding the Aging Process of Urban African Americans Across the Life Course: Identifying Early Risk and Protection for Cognition and Health in Midlife.” The study will examine how early life experiences through the 40s influence aging outcomes at age 60.
Black Americans experience disproportionately high rates of negative health outcomes as well as one of the shortest life expectancies. They experience disproportionate poor aging outcomes including pronounced disparities in brain health compared to Whites. To date, few studies have examined the factors starting in childhood that promote successful aging among urban Blacks.
In an effort to understand how life aspects affect the health of this cohort over time, Dr. Green’s study will extend the data collection of the 1966 Woodlawn Project, a prospective community cohort study of urban Blacks, which was previously led by principal investigator Dr. Margaret E. Ensminger from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Taking lead of this landmark project in its fifth round of data collection, Dr. Green’s team will examine the “Individual, family and community factors from birth through age 60 that promote physical, mental, social and cognitive health for urban Blacks in midlife.” The study’s cohort includes a large community of urban Blacks first studied as part of Woodlawn Project at age 6, adolescence, and at ages 32 and 42. The researchers add that the study’s “Fifth round of data collection at age 60 is crucial for examining individual and contextual life course trajectories affecting the aging experience.”
The long-term goal of the study is to “Inform intervention development and policy making by identifying critical pivotal influences along the life course that alter aging trajectories and improve health outcomes.” They add that “Findings will enhance and compliment those from national population-based surveys and comparative studies of Whites and Blacks by focusing on within-group differences that evolve overtime.” Additionally, this study will produce dataset that can be used broadly “To identify complex patterns, subgroup differences, indirect pathways and targets for early intervention that are critical to reduce health disparities and improve health outcomes for at-risk urban Blacks.”
Now spanning over 50 years, this unique study “Will allow in-depth exploration of both normative development and deviance, challenging assumptions of Black homogeneity and reframing the current deficit conceptualization, to focus instead on pathways to successful aging, cognitive functioning, and health.”