Patricia F. Coogan, ScD, an associate professor of epidemiology at Boston University's Slone Epidemiology Center (SEC), recently was awarded funding for two grants from the National Institutes of Health. The first is a five-year grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences that will study air pollution and risk of incident hypertension and diabetes in African American women. The second award is for a three-year study on the psychosocial factors and the risk of incident asthma in African American women, funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
Using data from the SEC's Black Women's Health Study (BWHS), Coogan and her colleagues will estimate long-term participant exposure to traffic-related pollutions as indicated by PM2.5 and the nitrogen oxides (markers of traffic-related pollution). The study will be the first investigation of the effect of air pollution on incidence of hypertension, the first large-scale investigation of its effect on diabetes incidence, and the first study of air pollution effects specifically in African American women.
According to Coogan the hypotheses are of critical public health importance given the high and growing prevalence of hypertension and diabetes in the U.S., the disparity between incidence rates among African American and white women, and the ubiquity of exposure to air pollution. "Positive findings will inform public policy on air quality regulation, provide insight into a novel pathway whereby air pollution causes cardiovascular events, and illuminate causes of racial disparities in hypertension and diabetes incidence," said Coogan.
In the second study, Coogan again will use data from the BWHS to prospectively estimate the influence of experiences of racism, violence during childhood and adolescence, depressive symptoms and neighborhood characteristics including socioeconomic status and racial segregation, on asthma incidence. This is the first prospective study to consider the effects of these psychosocial exposures on the incidence of adult asthma in African American women.
"Psychosocial factors may be of particular importance in asthma incidence in black women because the prevalence of experiences of violence, racism, depression, and living in disadvantaged neighborhoods are higher than in white women. If such experiences increase the risk of adult onset asthma, they may contribute to the racial disparity in asthma morbidity," explained Coogan. She believes positive results may direct intervention efforts to address stressors and may motivate further mechanistic studies of how chronic stress leads to asthma.