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Stress Measurement Network and Emotional Well-Being Network: 2022/2023 Awardees

Congratulations to the awardees of the 2022/2023 Utilization of Large Scale Cohort Studies to Examine Health and Aging Trajectories Funding opportunity!

The Stress Measurement Network, in partnership with the Network for Emotional Well-Being, supports applicants for secondary data analysis projects with a $10,000.00 Emotional Well-Being and Health Data Analysis Award.

Learn more about the recent awardees and their projects below!


Dr. Ryan Brown

Project Title: Depressive Symptom Trajectories: Predictors and Outcomes Across Two Harmonized Cohorts

Project Description: The relationship between depressive symptoms and physical health in mid- to older-adulthood is complex, with meta-analytic evidence broadly supporting an association between elevated depressive symptoms and increased risk of all-cause mortality, as well greater disease burden (i.e., multimorbidity). This project will investigate the heterogeneity of late-life depressive symptom trajectories and their relationship to mortality and emerging disease burden across two separate, harmonized cohorts of participants from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) and the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA). Aim 1: To characterize the association between latent-class memberships of depressive symptom trajectories across six years of older adulthood and physical health (mortality, incident multimorbidity) four years later.

Trajectories of depressive symptoms in adulthood may depend on critical monitoring of one’s social environment for cues that indicate social or physical threats that occur throughout the lifespan and have the potential to upregulate proinflammatory gene expression in a manner that promotes disease. There are also important social resilience factors that may influence depression trajectory group membership. Belonging, as evidenced through strong, stable social relationships, is a fundamental human need that is often associated with better mental and physical health. Belonging may be represented as an individual-level characteristic (i.e., social support) or a community-level characteristic (i.e., neighborhood social cohesion). Aim 2: Investigate individual- and community-level psychosocial risk (childhood stress, neighborhood disorder, job strain) and resilience (social support, neighborhood social cohesion) factors that may be associated with depressive symptom trajectory group membership.


Dr. Stephanie Cook

Project Title: Trajectories of Stress and Physical Activity Among Sexual and Gender Minorities of Color

Project Description: Evidence indicates that sexual and gender (SGM) individuals experience poorer cardiovascular health than their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts. Additionally, SGM of color (e.g., Black and Hispanic) experience poorer cardiovascular health than white SGM. One theorized determinant of poorer cardiovascular health among SGM, particularly SGM of color, is exposure to discrimination.

Exposure to discrimination (i.e., “minority stressors”) is believed to contribute to cardiovascular risk through both behavioral and physiological pathways. Indeed, exposure to chronic stress through discrimination may lead to harmful cardiometabolic health behaviors (CHB; e.g., physical inactivity and smoking). Indeed, research suggests that SGM individuals exhibit higher rates of harmful CHB than cisgender heterosexuals. Moreover, SGM individuals may experience discrimination based on multiple marginalized identities (e.g., being Black and gay) which may, in turn, confer CVD risk differentially over time. Nevertheless, there is a dearth of research examining CVD risk disparities according to intersectional axes such as sexual orientation, race, and gender identity.

As such, this project aims to better understand and measure discrimination as a social determinant of CVD risk among racially and ethnically diverse groups of SGM using the All of Us Research Program. The project aims to 1) assess trajectories of heart rate variability (HRV) and physical activity among SGM and heterosexuals of color, 2) assess how trajectories of physical activity are associated with changes in HRV among SGM and heterosexuals of color, and 3) cross-sectionally examine if physical activity mediates the association between discrimination and HRV among SGM and heterosexuals of color.


Dr. Abby Hillmann

Project Title: Stressful Life Events Across the Lifespan and Biological Aging: An Integrative Data Analysis of the HRS and ELSA Cohorts

Project Description: Exposure to stressful and traumatic life events can heighten risk for various chronic diseases, infectious diseases, and mortality. Importantly, the health risks associated with stressful life events may depend on their cumulative effects over time and/or the life stage in which events occur. Leading up to 2020, less than 5% of studies published on the Health and Retirement Study utilized measures of stress to address primary hypotheses, and no studies have used a lifespan approach to consider when stressful events occur and assess their relation to biological aging.

The current study aims to fill these gaps by examining two facets of stressful life events, including the total number and their life stages of occurrence (childhood, early adulthood, midlife, older age), and their associations with one aspect of biological aging (inflammatory C-reactive protein [CRP]), in two nationally representative samples of older adults: the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), and the English Longitudinal Study of Aging (ELSA). We will use an Integrative Data Analytic approach to simultaneously analyze the raw data pooled from these two cohorts, which offers advantages including increased power (larger sample size), increased lifespan coverage, and variation in the reports of stressful events. Additionally, within the HRS sample, we will test an expanded set of biological aging markers, including two additional inflammatory markers and epigenetic age, to validate associations across multiple measures of biological aging.


Dr. Elana Gloger

Project Title: Stress Variability, Inflammation, and Health: A Longitudinal Investigation of 20 years of MIDUS data

Project Description: The present study aims to investigate how, and by what processes, mean levels and intra-individual (IIV) of daily stress processes relate to future health in a secondary analysis of 20 years of MIDUS study data. Stress is acutely beneficial for survival but can increase the risk of poor aging when endured chronically. The frequency and intensity of daily stressors are related to poorer psychological health, chronic disease development, and early mortality. However, intraindividual variability (IIV) of daily stress processes, such as stressor frequency and intensity, and affective reactivity to daily stressors, may influence health differently than mean levels of daily stress processes, as between- and within-person effects of the same construct are not always of the same magnitude or in the same. Further, systemic inflammation may partially explain the relationship between mean levels and IIV of daily stress processes and health. Despite the theoretical plausibility that systemic inflammation may explain the relationship between mean levels and IIV of daily stress processes and future health, this has not been directly tested. Thus, we plan to test this model across three waves and 20 years of MIDUS data. This project represents vital, high-priority, early observational analyses for targeting modifiable risk factors for poor aging in future research. Improving the understanding of biological mechanisms linking stress and health can contribute to growing literature in the areas of improving well-being, increasing healthspan (i.e., years of healthy living), and decreasing healthcare burden across the lifespan.


Dr. Theresa Pauly

Project Title: Social Relationships, Psychological Distress, and Health in Middle-Aged and Older Adults Identifying as a Sexual Minority

Project Description: Most of what we know about the importance of social relationships for healthy aging comes from studies conducted with privileged groups, like well-educated White individuals with university degrees. However, health disparities are more common among racial and ethnic groups and individuals who identify as sexual or gender minorities. For example, older adults who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual have higher risks of physical and mental health issues and engaging in unhealthy behaviors like smoking and drinking. This is because they often have limited access to healthcare, experience higher stress levels due to discrimination, and face victimization. The structure of their social relationships also plays a role. Research shows that middle-aged to older individuals identifying as a sexual and/or gender minority tend to have fewer children and less contact with relatives, but more contact with friends compared to the general population.

Thus, understanding the specific health risks and strengths of older adults who identify as a sexual and/or gender minority is crucial. This project will build upon the diverse group of participants in the Canadian Longitudinal Study of Aging, which includes 1,057 individuals from sexual minority communities. It aims to explore how the social relationships of these older adults, such as the amount of social support they report, relate to their objective health and health behaviors over time. The project will also investigate whether these associations are mediated by increased psychological distress. By identifying the unique social and health needs of diverse older individuals, this project hopes to inform efforts to improve the health and well-being of older adults belonging to marginalized groups, and guide interventions and support tailored to their specific circumstances.


Dr. Claudia Trudel-Fitzgerald

Project Title: Dysregulated Allostasis: The Role of Affect Regulation in Allostatic Load and Longevity

Project Description: Evidence suggests that both psychological distress and psychological well-being each relate to diseases onset and longevity. Contemporary theoretical models posit that overarching regulatory processes, like coping and emotion regulation, may explain why both distress and well-being each predict long-term health outcomes and related biobehavioral mechanisms (eg, inflammation, smoking). Because the empirical evaluation of these models has been focused on chronic disease onset, underlying mechanisms remain understudied. Moreover, overlapping features of coping and emotion regulation are increasingly acknowledged and some scholars recently called for the use of an “affect regulation framework” reuniting them. Besides, coping and emotion regulation strategies are typically considered as being either adaptive or maladaptive; yet, the impact of such strategies may rather rely on the flexibility with which they are used across contexts. Therefore, this project will 1) assess the relations of various affect regulation strategies and flexibility in their use with concurrent and future levels of allostatic load; 2) evaluate if allostatic load mediates the relation of affect regulation strategies and flexibility in their use with mortality risk; 3) determine if sex, race, education levels, and perceived stress, separately, moderate these relations. Results will have the potential to identify transdiagnostic and cost-effective intervention targets that may improve long-term physical health. Collaborators are Tara Gruenwald, Robert-Paul Juster, and Amanda Ng.


Dr. Vanessa Volpe and Dr. Olivenne Skinner

Project Title: Linking State-Level Systemic Racism, Health Behaviors, and Obesity Risk among Black Adolescents using Administrative and Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development Study Data

Project Description: Black adolescents are at disproportionately high obesity risk, which threatens their long-term health. Obesity prevention and intervention efforts are critical for Black adolescents, but often focus solely on lifestyle behaviors. Such efforts ignore the larger contexts that shape adolescents’ health behaviors and subsequent obesity, to the continued detriment of Black adolescents’ equitable opportunities for health and well-being. Drawing from recommendations from the SMN on systemic racism as a structural stressor, we examine the impact of state-level systemic racism on the health behaviors and obesity risk of Black adolescents. Joining theoretical perspectives from health psychology, family studies, and public health, the aim of this investigation is to understand stress-related predictors of adolescent obesity risk at multiple levels (structural, familial, and individual) that may be crucial levers of intervention for health promotion. We will address previous limitations of obesity risk research by integrating 1) administrative census data, with 2) data from the cutting-edge nationally representative NIH Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development (ABCD) study. Using three waves of longitudinal data (2016-2018) from 2518 Black adolescents and parents, we will test the central hypothesis that greater state-level racism reduces opportunities for health-promoting neighborhood environments and health-supporting family dynamics, and therefore reduces healthy behaviors and increases obesity risk for Black adolescents.

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