Prenatal and early life exposures and environments are fundamental to life course health and prosperity and are increasingly recognized as such in national and international public health priorities. Fetal and early childhood environments affect children's cognitive and non-cognitive development, abilities, and performance in elementary school and, as a result, significantly affect subsequent educational trajectories, adult health, wealth, and social status. However opportunities for optimal development for children in the U.S. are not uniform, but rather are socially and spatially patterned from before birth-in the form of fetal programming and birth outcomes-through adolescence and into adulthood. It is therefore a pressing public health challenge to better understand the family and neighborhood environmental determinants of early childhood development in order to identify opportunities for child, family, and community interventions which improve children's health outcomes. Meeting this challenge requires linking the micro and macro demographic processes by which families and neighborhoods affect early child development with the conceptual, methodological, and statistical perspectives of spatial demography and population geography. With this career development award I will gain critical inter-disciplinary skills necessary to pursue a novel research agenda that: a) integrates population science theory and methods necessary to study residential context, segregation and mobility, b) describes the role of spatially and temporally dynamic residential context in early life course development of U.S. children, c) prepares me to compete successfully for R01-level research funding by year 5, and d) establishes me as an independent investigator at the intersection of spatial and social demography, life course demography / epidemiology, and public health.
The research aims of this study are to: 1) develop and evaluate a geo-informatics data model for studying spatiotemporal population patterns including residential segregation, neighborhood deprivation and residential stability and mobility;2) test the association of spatiotemporal neighborhood exposures with early childhood cognitive development and school readiness using Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS) Birth and Kindergarten cohort data;and 3) construct spatial, agent- based models to explore dynamics of the place-child development relationship. Residential environments are a source of social capital and collective efficacy for residents and could affect child development through the distribution of educational and recreational resources, through the effects of stress or support from varying crime, economic, and social characteristics of neighborhoods, or through local norms and role models for both parents and children. These factors will be measured using census, crime, and other population-based data sources to describe the spatial patterns of residential segregation;residential mobility, housing tenure, and stability;and neighborhood social environment including poverty, affluence, crime and family structure. Associations between spatial residential environments and childhood development will be tested using the ECLS birth and kindergarten cohorts using spatial regression, and econometric approaches which can test hypotheses of spatial externalities, clustering, and heterogeneity. The multilevel use of large, population-based longitudinal data with spatially-explicit environmental measures and hypotheses can shed light on both the magnitude of associations as well as the possible pathways through which environments strengthen or undermine optimal child development. The execution of these research aims will be intertwined with a comprehensive training and career mentoring plan carried out at Emory University and Penn State University Population Research Institute. Training goals include study of spatial, social and family demography, geo-informatics, and advanced statistical approaches to frequentist and Bayesian spatial analysis. Mentoring will support research productivity in the form of publications, collaboration with public health and population science scholars, and successful submission of R03 and R01 grants during the training period. Overall this proposal will allow me to become a uniquely skilled, independent researcher bridging spatial demography and social epidemiology.
Children's fetal and early life environments set them on a trajectory of cognitive and non-cognitive development and academic achievements which has far reaching consequences for adult health and wellbeing. In addition to family environment, children's neighborhood environments in these critical early years may foster or inhibit optimal development. This study will systematically examine how geographic and spatial variation in neighborhood environments might affect resident children's cognitive and non-cognitive skill development, and whether such exposures contribute to population health disparities.
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