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

Learn more about the recent awardees and their projects below!

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.

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Dr. Ryan Brown

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

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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. Abby Hillmann

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

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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.

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