Vanderbilt University’s new interdisciplinary center seeks to unravel the roots and repercussions of health-related inequalities.

The Vanderbilt Center for Research on Inequality and Health, a trans-institutional collaboration between the College of Arts and Science  and the School of Nursing, will bring together leading Vanderbilt researchers with deep expertise in economic and social inequality, population health science, LGBTQ+ health policy, and gun violence to explore the health impacts of these interrelated areas of study.

Led by international subject matter experts, the center’s scholarship will deepen society’s understanding of the causes of health-related inequalities, how they intersect, and how they affect population health. The center’s research will inform potential solutions to these challenges through advocacy, intervention, and public policy.

The center is part of Discovery Vanderbilt, an Office of the Provost initiative initiative and one of three pathways in the university’s Dare to Grow campaign to support and extend the resources underpinning Vanderbilt’s most innovative research and education.

“It’s so exciting to support this center’s launch as part of Discovery Vanderbilt,” says Provost C. Cybele Raver. “This represents a bold step forward in our unwavering commitment to addressing crucial societal issues through collaborative research and interdisciplinary exploration.”

The Center for Research on Inequality and Health will be led by Christopher “Kitt” Carpenter, E. Bronson Ingram University Distinguished Professor of Economics and Health Policy. Tara McKay, assistant professor of medicine, health, and society, and Shelagh Mulvaney, associate professor of nursing and biomedical informatics, will be associate directors. The center will be in an expanded, renovated space on the third floor of Buttrick Hall, in Vanderbilt’s historic core, allowing for even more collaboration and interdisciplinary exploration.

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“I am honored to lead this innovative effort to connect and amplify Vanderbilt’s outstanding scholarship on inequality and health,” says Carpenter. “From our new physical space to hiring exceptional new faculty to fostering new collaborations across disciplines, the center is well-positioned to be a global leader in this area.”

“This center will be important not only as an intersection of scholarly disciplines but also as an intersection of ideas—a place to discuss and debate these urgent topics with the aim of arriving at applicable solutions,” says Chancellor Daniel Diermeier.

Featured Research at Vanderbilt Center for Research on Inequality and Health

Mulvaney, an expert in digital health equity, works with colleagues in the School of Engineering Institute for Software Integrated Systems and the University of Kentucky to improve nutrition and obesity-related inequalities. Mulvaney and the UKY team recently developed an app called Children Eating Well, or CHEW, that encourages healthy shopping and cooking, nutrition education, family health behavior goal setting, and family mealtimes. The program, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will be implemented in Head Start centers throughout Kentucky this year.

Julie Ward, assistant professor of medicine, health, and society, is an expert on public opinion about firearms in the U.S. With her existing collaborators at Johns Hopkins University and with new collaborators at the CRIH, Ward will investigate questions related to firearm ownership and racial equity through the National Survey of Gun Policy and new research avenues. These data will offer insight into racialized experiences of firearm victimization, ownership, and related risks that inform and shape public policy and the national conversation about firearms.

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Carol Ziegler, professor of nursing and recently appointed member of the Metro Nashville Board of Health, will work to address climate-related health inequalities in Nashville and beyond. With her community partners, colleagues, and undergraduate students working on immersion projects, Ziegler will design and prototype initiatives to leverage carbon offset dollars with social impact, boost investments in lower carbon emissions, and promote economic, physical, and mental health for low-income families in Nashville.

The center will also explore: How did state policy environments shape mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic? What does changing public opinion on carrying guns in public spaces mean for population health and well-being? How are adverse childhood experiences related to educational and health outcomes later in life? Does accessing an affirming healthcare provider improve health outcomes for LGBTQ+ people?

“The center represents an innovative approach to addressing one of the most pressing issues of our time,” says Timothy P. McNamara, interim dean of the College of Arts and Science. “We are proud to collaborate with our esteemed colleagues in the School of Nursing, bringing together leading experts across disciplines to address health inequality.” Dean of the School of Nursing Pamela Jeffries adds, “The partnership between our two schools illustrates what Vanderbilt does best: radical collaboration that leads to greater discovery and solutions to global challenges. I look forward to seeing how the cutting-edge scholarship coming out of the center will make a real difference in the lives of individuals, communities, and populations.”

Renee Hewitt
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