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From country to city, place affects health inequities

Amelia Karraker
Program Official,
Division of Behavioral and Social Research (DBSR)
Patricia Jones
Patricia JONES,
Office of Special Populations (OSP)

Note: The authors would like to thank their colleague Frank Bandiera for his collaboration on this post.

From the California coast to coal country, the places where people live mean a lot not only for cultural identity and neighborhood pride but also for health reasons. For NIA-supported research, the term “place” is not just defined by a zip code on a spreadsheet or boundary lines on a map. Rather, place is multifaceted, whether someone lives in a rural ranch house, in a group home in a bustling city, or anywhere in between. Where people live, work, learn, and play matters — for personal health and well-being and for finding and addressing health inequities.

Where you live can affect (and be affected by) factors including income, diet, social interactions, access to medical and dental care, and education, all of which impact health and quality of life. Places also reflect historical and contemporary social, economic, cultural, and policy realities — from discriminatory racial barriers such as redlining and housing covenants to employment opportunities, public transportation access, and exposure to environmental toxicants.

A long record of studying place

NIA has a long-standing record of supporting research on the role of places and health. The NIA Health Disparities Research Framework offers opportunities for research teams to consider specific intervention targets that reflect diverse environmental factors as well as sociocultural, behavioral, and biological ones. The framework can help scientists identify and analyze potential causes of health disparities across the full spectrum of life stages.

NIA has convened several meetings and workshops to further the understanding of the interplay between place and health. For example, NIA was the primary funder of a National Academies of Science Consensus Study titled High and Rising Mortality Rates Among Working-Age Adults, which included a focus on the widening mortality disparities between rural and metropolitan areas. NIA also sponsored a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine seminar on structural racism and socioeconomic disparities.

In addition, NIA recently released a new funding opportunity announcement aimed at better understanding place-based inequities in morbidity and mortality in midlife, including across the urban-rural continuum.

Join us Nov. 18 to focus on rural health disparities

NIA is proud to be a co-sponsor of the 2021 NIH Rural Health Day, which is designed to advance understanding of structural-level determinants of health that contribute to rural health disparities. NIA is supporting the virtual seminar Structural-Level Determinants of Rural Health Disparities that will take place tomorrow, Nov. 18, from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. ET. Our aim is to stimulate more research that identifies multi-level, evidence-based solutions to improve rural health outcomes.

We hope you can tune in and join us tomorrow! Wherever you call home, if you are interested in further exploring ways to address and close these place-based gaps in health access and outcomes, please contact us or leave a comment below.

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