Developmental Considerations in Health Disparities Research

Organizing Committee

We thank the organizing committee – organized by Gabriela Stein (UNC-G) and Shauna Cooper (UNC-CH) and includes Stephanie Irby Coard (UNCG), Lisa Kiang (Wake Forest), Sherika Hill (Duke), Linda Burton (Duke), and Enrique Neblett (UNC-CH) – for coordinating this exciting series.


Despite the goal set by Healthy People 2010 to eliminate health disparities (USDHHS, 2000), African Americans and Latinos continue to be disproportionately affected by life-threatening diseases relative to non-Hispanic Whites (e.g., diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension). While evidence supporting these disparities is clear, the incorporation of a developmental science framework to understanding them is lacking. We do not understand how these racial and ethnic disparities develop over time, whether there are critical or sensitive periods of development when these disparities come online, or what contextual factors contribute to and influence the trajectories of health outcomes over the life course. A developmentally sensitive study of the trajectories of health care disparities needs to take a more expansive view of health that includes individual, familial, and social capacities that promote coping and stress management, school readiness and academic performance, peer competencies, healthy family functioning, and indicators of well-being. Moreover, the study of the development of health disparities also requires a focus on the unique socio-cultural risk and protective processes to identify key mechanisms at play (Neblett, Rivas-Drake & Umaña-Taylor, 2012). Unpacking the causal pathways that link social determinants of health and related intervening and interacting factors over the life course will play a pivotal role in developing effective ways to address social factors and design multidimensional interventions that address multiple social determinants of health (Braveman et al., 2011, Williams & Mohammed, 2013b).

Over the course of this semester, we will explore developmental mechanisms underlying health disparities from an interdisciplinary perspective. Reflecting the complexity of this issue, we will examine health disparities in conjunction with a number of other existing disparities (i.e., educational) with particular attention paid to the role of intersecting identities and identifying key developmental periods. Presentations will strive to identify individual, social, cultural, and structural factors that are directly and indirectly related to the emergence and mitigation of these disparities. We will also focus on definitional and measurement issues in developmentally-focused disparities research.

Guiding Questions:

  1. Definitional questions: In your work, how do you conceptualize, differentiate, and measure racial/ethnic differences, disparities, and discrimination (e.g., across levels, contexts, family, personal vs. institutional, as embedded in current events)?  How does the operationalization of racial/ethnic discrimination influence distinct health outcomes? How should the field tackle operationalization and conceptualization throughout development?
  2. Impact and Mechanisms: What health disparity does your work tackle and how do you incorporate a health disparities perspective in your work? What stress-related outcomes are key to understanding the development of health disparities across time as beginning in childhood (i.e., Cortisol; G x E; Sleep; allostatic load)? What other outcomes has this literature not considered fully as shaping health disparities across time? What are the possible pathways or mechanisms between discrimination and health (mental health, physical health, health behavior, educational pathways) disparities? What protective mechanisms do you examine in your work and do you see as central to understanding the development of health disparities?
  3. Development: How do you consider developmental processes in your work on racial/ethnic discrimination and health disparities? What is the role of timing or developmental period on the impact of racial/ethnic discrimination on health disparities?
  4. Intersectionality: How do you see your work addressing issues of intersectionality (e.g., SES, gender, immigration status, sexuality)? How should the field tackle intersectionality in our understanding of health disparities? How do you tackle within group variability in your understanding of the impact of racial/ethnic discrimination on health disparities?
  5. Intervention/Prevention: How does your work translate to intervention or prevention efforts? For future research in this area, how can a focus on minority health (i.e., within group) or disparities research (comparative approach) be used to inform interventions and advance the field?


Speakers reflect a variety of areas of expertise, and include such presenters as Howard Stevenson (University of Pennsylvania), Dawn Witherspoon (Penn State University), Hiro Yoshikawa (NYU), Tiffany Yip (Fordham University), and Ezemenari Obasi (University of Houston).

A graduate seminar associated with weekly Proseminar presentations at the Carolina Consortium on Human Development will be offered on Mondays from 3:30 – 5:00 and will be led by Gabriela Stein and Shauna Cooper. Spaces in this class are limited, and graduate students who are interested are asked to contact Cathi Propper at to express their interest in the seminar.


Click here for a list of upcoming speakers in the CCHD series.