University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work Study Funded by $1.5 Million American Cancer Society Grant

A University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work researcher has received a four-year $1.5 million grant from the American Cancer Society to look at how neighborhood environments influence obesity and smoking among women and their young children.

Obesity and smoking are important risk factors for cancer. Populations of color, low socio-economic groups and women suffer disproportionately from adverse neighborhood environments and disparities in cancer, said Dr. Catherine Cubbin, associate professor of social work. Preliminary data to support the proposal for the new study were acquired through pilot funding from the university's Population Research Center, where Cubbin is a research associate.

"In the United States, smoking rates are stagnant, and secondhand smoke continues to kill thousands every year," said Cubbin. "Obesity is epidemic and getting worse. These risk factors contribute to many cancers like lung, pancreatic, stomach, kidney, colon, uterine and breast cancers."

The study will be the first follow-up interview of nearly 6,000 respondents to the Maternal and Infant Health Assessment, a large and diverse set of participants representing women who gave birth in California. Interview data from women and their young children will be linked with data about their neighborhoods, including socio-economic and environmental characteristics, such as access to healthy affordable food, safe places to exercise, tobacco outlets and transportation opportunities.

"One question the study hopes to shed light on is how changes in neighborhood environments influence smoking and obesity," said Cubbin.

The elimination of health disparities by ethnicity and socio-economic status is a key public health priority, she said.

"Large numbers of children, youth and adult family members in the U.S. population," Cubbin said, "face substantial challenges to healthy development from poverty, family instability and disadvantages associated with minority status."