The Strong African American Families Healthy Adult Project (SHAPE) followed 493 African American youth from ages 11 to 20. Participants have grown up in rural Georgia communities in which poverty rates for African Americans are among the highest in the nation. Life in rural areas can be more challenging than in urban areas due to restricted educational and employment opportunities, difficulties in obtaining physical and mental health care, and a lack of public transportation. Despite living in such challenging situations, many SHAPE participants have displayed high levels of psychosocial functioning across adolescence. We identified naturally occurring factors in family and community networks that protected these youth from the consequences of SES- and race-related stressors that proliferate in rural Southern contexts. Epidemiological research reveals that African Americans in the rural South are among the most disadvantaged populations in the US in terms of chronic diseases of aging (CDA) such as coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Emerging evidence indicates that contemporaneous health determinants in midlife or later cannot adequately account for why rural African Americans experience high rates of CDAs. Rather, many CDAs incubate in physiological systems for decades prior to the manifestation of disease. In the next 5 years, SHAPE participants will experience a stressful developmental transition. Job turnover rates are high, and the combined effects of poor preparation for employment and discriminatory hiring practices make obtaining stable employment a protracted and often demoralizing process. These stressors have the potential to take a toll on SHAPE participants'health, undermining psychosocial functioning and contributing to CDA-related vulnerabilities. To understand the pathways from stress exposure during childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood to CDA vulnerabilities and psychosocial outcomes, we propose to extend the SHAPE research program in two key ways. First we propose to augment our health assessment of SHAPE participants to include markers of metabolic syndrome and pro-inflammatory tendencies which are linked to the development of CDAs. Second, we propose to investigate a critical question for public health scientists and practitioners. In response to stress exposure, some SHAPE participants will evince escalation in CDA vulnerability whereas other will not. This proposal is designed to investigate why. Evidence from laboratory-based studies suggests a central role for psychosocial risk and protective mechanisms in young adulthood and earlier phases of development in altering the pathways linking stress exposure and CDA precursors. Prospective research investigating these risk and protective mechanisms, however, is virtually nonexistent. We thus propose to collect data from SHAPE participants, at ages 22 and 24 years, that includes CDA precursors along with assessments of environmental stressors, psychosocial adjustment, risk and protective mechanisms, HPA axis/SNS deregulation, and health behavior.

Public Health Relevance

African Americans in the rural South are among the most disadvantaged populations in the US in terms of health disparities. Recent research suggests that the roots of these disparities lie in earlier stages of development as young people cope with stressful environments. In this study we investigate the risk and protective processes that explain why some young adult rural African Americans develop vulnerabilities to chronic diseases and others do not.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
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Psychosocial Development, Risk and Prevention Study Section (PDRP)
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Esposito, Layla E
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University of Georgia
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Brody, Gene H; Lei, Man-Kit; Chen, Edith et al. (2014) Neighborhood poverty and allostatic load in African American youth. Pediatrics 134:e1362-8
Beach, Steven R H; Dogan, Meeshanthini V; Brody, Gene H et al. (2014) Differential impact of cumulative SES risk on methylation of protein-protein interaction pathways as a function of SLC6A4 genetic variation in African American young adults. Biol Psychol 96:28-34
Brody, Gene H; Yu, Tianyi; Beach, Steven R H et al. (2014) Harsh parenting and adolescent health: a longitudinal analysis with genetic moderation. Health Psychol 33:401-9
Brody, Gene H; Lei, Man-Kit; Chae, David H et al. (2014) Perceived discrimination among African American adolescents and allostatic load: a longitudinal analysis with buffering effects. Child Dev 85:989-1002
Dogan, Meeshanthini V; Shields, Bridget; Cutrona, Carolyn et al. (2014) The effect of smoking on DNA methylation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells from African American women. BMC Genomics 15:151
Beach, Steven R H; Brody, Gene H; Lei, Man Kit et al. (2014) Is serotonin transporter genotype associated with epigenetic susceptibility or vulnerability? Examination of the impact of socioeconomic status risk on African American youth. Dev Psychopathol 26:289-304
Brody, Gene H; Beach, Steven R H; Hill, Karl G et al. (2013) Using genetically informed, randomized prevention trials to test etiological hypotheses about child and adolescent drug use and psychopathology. Am J Public Health 103 Suppl 1:S19-24
Brody, Gene H; Yu, Tianyi; Chen, Yi-fu et al. (2013) Cumulative socioeconomic status risk, allostatic load, and adjustment: a prospective latent profile analysis with contextual and genetic protective factors. Dev Psychol 49:913-27
Brody, Gene H; Yu, Tianyi; Chen, Edith et al. (2013) Is resilience only skin deep?: rural African Americans' socioeconomic status-related risk and competence in preadolescence and psychological adjustment and allostatic load at age 19. Psychol Sci 24:1285-93
Brody, Gene H; Kim, Sooyeon; Murry, Velma McBride et al. (2005) Longitudinal links among parenting, self-presentations to peers, and the development of externalizing and internalizing symptoms in African American siblings. Dev Psychopathol 17:185-205

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