NIMHD Launches Plan to Advance the Science of Health Disparities
NIMHD launched the Scientific Advancement Plan (SAP), a transformative agenda that champions the fields of minority health and health disparities to contribute to and benefit from the scientific advances that are improving public health.
Research in precision medicine, genomics and health information technology, for example, hold promise for more effective chronic disease management, treatment and personalized prevention measures that will improve health outcomes. This approach to research in minority health and health disparities considers the current state of the science in these areas and opportunities to improve health equity for all populations.
Since the early 1990s, researchers have been working to identify, understand and address health disparities—health differences that adversely affect disadvantaged populations.
Over the years, research in the field has evolved from a basic descriptive understanding of what health disparities are and who is most affected to discovering the complexity of factors involved in health and its outcomes. These are recognized as determinants of health—the individual factors and the conditions in which we live, learn, work and play that influence health status.
Today, NIMHD delves deeper, introducing new approaches to the field. The SAP takes into account the complexity of this research and allows for flexibility as it moves forward to address current and emerging issues.
“What we’re learning about health disparities today has the potential to transform health for all populations,” said NIMHD director Dr. Eliseo Pérez-Stable. “The plan serves as a roadmap to get us there.”
Recent discoveries are revealing underlying causes of health disparities across the health spectrum. For example, studies suggest geographic disparities in health and life expectancy, where living in particular zip codes directly correlates to poorer health status and higher mortality, particularly for racial and ethnic minorities and persons of less socioeconomic privilege.
Additionally, chronic stress has been linked to reduced telomere length, which can affect life expectancy and increase vulnerability to such chronic diseases as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and stroke—conditions highly prevalent in some racial and ethnic minorities.
“These studies indicate that ameliorating health disparities means gaining a deeper understanding of underlying mechanisms causing disparities,” said Pérez-Stable. “To do so, we must ensure adequate inclusion of racial and ethnic minorities in all clinical research. It’s simply good science.”
Today, we know that adverse health conditions may not be the result of a single factor or incidence. Instead, they may result from multiple factors that can take place over a lifetime. The plan considers these and other determinants that influence health outcomes, along with the need to increase the number of underrepresented minority scientists to help improve inclusion and the quality of research.
Four themes define the SAP: strengthen research in minority health and health disparities from understanding etiology to improving methods and developing interventions; increase investigator-initiated research; strengthen research evaluation and reporting; and support expansion of workforce diversity.
To learn more about the plan, visit https://www.nimhd.nih.gov/about/overview/scientific-advancement.html.