A Systems Science Approach to Understanding Racial/Ethnic Dispartities in Obesity

Project: Research project

Project Details


Identifying effective strategies for reducing obesity is critical for alleviating the unequal burden of obesity and related adverse cardiopulmonary and sleep outcomes facing black and Hispanic women in the U.S. Studies typically focus on identifying independent effects of individual and environmental factors on obesity, but this approach overlooks important inter-relationships between these factors. This is challenging to model using traditional regression modeling approaches which are not well equipped to handle the complex ways individuals interact with their environments. In recognition of this, two recent Institute of Medicine reports advocated for the use of predictive and system-based simulation models to understand the health consequences of underlying determinants of multifactorial conditions like obesity. Thus, the overall goal of this application is to use a systems science methodology, agent-based modeling, to understand how individual-level behaviors and psychosocial factors interact with characteristics of the food environment to influence eating behaviors and obesity. This goal will be accomplished by executing the following aims: 1) to examine associations of food store characteristics with dietary quality and body mass index among Hispanic, black and white women; 2) to develop an exploratory agent-based model that simulates the emergence of racial/ethnic disparities in obesity among women; and 3) to investigate the effectiveness of potential multi-level interventions to reduce obesity. The candidate, Kiarri Kershaw, is an Assistant Professor of Preventive Medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Her strong training in general epidemiology, social epidemiology, and population health has allowed her to pursue a research agenda focused on racial/ethnic, socioeconomic, and place-based disparities in cardiovascular disease risk factors. The K01 award will allow her to build on her current training by providing her with protected time to collect data on factors that influence lifestyle choices and to build and test an exploratory agent-based simulation. It will also allow her to learn how to work with community stakeholders and policymakers to develop research studies with a greater potential to translate into public health improvements. This training will help Dr. Kershaw achieve her long-term career goal of playing an integral role in the development of evidence-based multi-level public health interventions to promote cardiovascular health and prevent disease by establishing an independent research program that focuses on how inter-relationships between individuals and their environments influence disparities in CVD risk.
Effective start/end date8/15/165/31/20


  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (5K01HL133531-04)


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