Early life exposure to changing social and physical environments has been implicated as a driving force in the increasing global prevalence of obesity and chronic disease at younger ages. However, understanding of the complex pathways linking environmental exposures to the development of health and disease across the life course has been limited by methodological difficulties in disentangling the effects of changing environments from individual, age-related vulnerability to environmental change. The proposed career development award addresses this gap, bringing together training in sophisticated demographic methods and a unique dataset, the China Health and Nutrition Study, a 20-year NIH study of >11,000 individuals in 4400 households capturing dramatic changes in diet, disease burden and lifestyles, to characterize environmental determinants of inflammation, a measure of chronic immune activation linked to the development of cardiometabolic disease. Drawing on a life course framework, this project examines the pathways linking social and physical environments to inflammation among children, adolescents and young adults through three specific aims: 1) the characterization of salient social, behavioral, biological and physical environmental predictors of inflammation across age groups and urban/rural residence, 2) the use of latent class trajectory models and age, period, cohort analysis to characterize longitudinal patterns of exposure to pathogenic and obesogenic environments, and 3) the identification of shared and unique predictors of inflammation within individual households to address age and cohort differences in vulnerability on the micro-environmental level. This award will incorporate formal training in demography, mentorship from leaders in the fields of demography and nutrition, and fieldwork in China to create innovative models more broadly applicable to questions of health in changing environments in China and globally. The institutional environments, the Carolina Population Center, UNC- Chapel Hill and Duke University, and mentoring by an inter-disciplinary team of experts, will foster the development of a new research niche linking a human biological focus on the development of chronic disease with sophisticated demographic analytic tools. This training and mentoring will provide the unique set of skills I need to make a large step forward from my background in narrower bench research and smaller-scale human biology work to become an independent population scientist with a dynamic perspective on the interplay of environment and inflammation and a capacity to make significant, interdisciplinary contributions to the study of human health and disease.

Public Health Relevance

Obesity and the biological precursors of chronic diseases are being seen at increasingly younger ages in the United States and globally, and modernizing social and physical environments have been implicated as underlying determinants. An improved understanding of the pathways linking the environment experienced during childhood, adolescence and young adulthood to the development of inflammation is critical for identifying the effects of changing environments on human health and developing successful interventions for reducing the global burden of obesity and cardiometabolic disease.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Scientist Development Award - Research & Training (K01)
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Developmental Biology Subcommittee (CHHD)
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King, Rosalind B
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University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Social Sciences
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Chapel Hill
United States
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Dong, F; Howard, A G; Herring, A H et al. (2017) Concordance of haemoglobin A1c, blood pressure and C-reactive protein between children and their parents in Chinese households. Pediatr Obes 12:422-430
Dong, Fei; Howard, Annie Green; Herring, Amy H et al. (2016) Parent-child associations for changes in diet, screen time, and physical activity across two decades in modernizing China: China Health and Nutrition Survey 1991-2009. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 13:118
Thompson, Amanda L; Adair, Linda; Gordon-Larsen, Penny et al. (2015) Environmental, Dietary, and Behavioral Factors Distinguish Chinese Adults with High Waist-to-Height Ratio with and without Inflammation. J Nutr 145:1335-44
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