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$10M Grant Will Fund Study to Address Racial Health Disparities

NIH funding will help Pennsylvania researchers implement community and household interventions in Black neighborhoods to address racial health disparities.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine received a $10 million grant that will help fund a study to investigate how environmental and economical interventions impact racial health disparities in Black communities.

Structural racism in Black neighborhoods is a contributing factor to poor health and wellbeing among residents. Neighborhoods that have been neglected for years face tangible barriers like trash build-up, inadequate green space, and collapsed housing. Limited economic opportunities also hinder these communities.

As a result, Black individuals living in these communities face increased rates of health issues such as depression, heart disease, and post-traumatic stress disorder, compared to White individuals.

Assistant professors at Penn Medicine, Eugenia C. South, MD, and Atheendar Venkataramani, MD will lead the study, which will focus on 60 predominantly Black neighborhoods in Philadelphia. The researchers will implement community- and household-level interventions to address health disparities.

Within the community, the research team will initiate trash cleanup, tree planting, vacant lot greening, and rehabilitation of abandoned housing. On the household level, study leaders will help residents access social and economic benefits such as food, unemployment, and prescription drug assistance, researchers said. The study will also provide residents with financial counseling, tax services, and emergency cash assistance.

“Previous efforts to reduce racial health disparities have been less impactful than we would like because they often only address a small number of the many mechanisms by which structural racism harms health,” Venkataramani stated in the press release. “Our multi-component intervention is designed to address these multiple mechanisms all at once.”

The researchers will study 720 Black individuals throughout the 60 neighborhoods, recruiting participants using door-to-door canvassing. Half of the participants will receive the interventions and the other half will serve as the control group.

To monitor the residents’ health and wellbeing, the researchers will send out multiple surveys to participants throughout the study. The team will track if the interventions influence the rate of violent crime in the community as well.

The study aims to show that investing time and resources into Black communities can help address racial health disparities that stem from structural racism. The researchers said they hope the interventions will improve the health and wellbeing of the study participants, their household members, and the community as a whole.

“Collectively, our team has spent a significant amount of time talking and working with leaders and community groups in Black Philadelphia neighborhoods and with this study we are committed to being responsive to the economic and environmental needs they have identified,” South stated in the press release.

The study leaders also aim to develop a platform to facilitate communication between residents and financial services agencies in the community. Individuals are more likely to receive support if they are aware of their eligibility and have assistance throughout the processes, the researchers noted. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, Benefits Data Trust, Campaign for Working Families, and Clarifi will offer their support during the study.

The Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania received the nearly $10 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through the NIH Common Fund’s Transformative Research to Address Health Disparities and Advance Health Equity initiative. The NIH will also fund additional health disparities research across the country over the next five years with 11 grants totaling $58 million.

The Penn Medicine researchers are hopeful that the results of their study will notify policymakers that these kinds of interventions work and should exist in communities that face racial health disparities. Helping to tackle social determinants of health barriers that are results of structural racism can help improve the health of the community.

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