2014–15 Pilot Projects

Veteran Health in the WLS

PI: Craig Atwood, associate professor, School of Medicine and Public Health
Abstract: The veteran population is exposed to cognitive impacts including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI; shell-shock). Although these disorders may resolve following return to civilian life, there is little data on the long-term effects of these exposures to cognitive and affective performance with aging in veterans. The central objective of this proposal is therefore to determine if there are disparities in cognitive and affective disorders between the aged veteran population and civilian population within the WLS cohort. In addition, this dataset will be tested for association with genetic and environmental factors. Identification of differences in cognitive and affective disorders in the veteran population would allow better allocation of resources for treatment of veterans at VA hospitals, while identification of genetic and environmental correlates might allow for the development of prognostic/diagnostic tests and the initiation of preventive strategies.

Chronic Psychosocial Stress, and Risk of Metabolic Syndrome

PIs: Leonelo Bautista, associate professor, population health sciences
Alberto Palloni, Samuel Preston Professor, sociology
Abstract: This project will examine the role of socioeconomic status (SES) on the risk of metabolic syndrome (MetS). SES is a source of chronic psychosocial stress (CPS), which may increase the risk of MetS by increasing blood levels of cortisol. Unfortunately, the roles of SES and CPS are uncertain partly because standard markers of stress (serum, salivary, and urinary cortisol) provide single point in time levels that are subject to major physiological variations. Hair cortisol could be a better biological marker of CPS, as it reflects average blood levels over a period of months. We will assess the usefulness of hair cortisol as a marker of CPS, by quantifying its association with self-reported stress, individual and neighborhood SES, and components of the MetS. Data from this study will be used to design of a cohort study of the effects of SES on CPS and MetS in the Survey of the Health of Wisconsin (SHOW).

Aging and Place: New Methods to Identify Optimal Spatial Units for Health Outcomes among the Older Population

PIs: Katherine Curtis, associate professor, community and environmental sociology
James Raymo, Professor, sociology
Jun Zhu, Professor, statistics
Abstract: Researchers are becoming increasingly interested in the role of place in shaping various social and health outcomes. Individual characteristics such as age and marital status have strong effects on health, yet researchers argue that health outcomes are also shaped by contextual factors such as local social and economic circumstances and the built environment. Research incorporating contextual factors most often relies on multilevel modeling strategies. While a step in the right direction, such approaches are limited in two important ways. First, existing approaches do not offer an empirically-based test of whether contextual factors are measured at the appropriate spatial scale. Second, existing approaches do not account for the possibility that the effect of contextual factors is not the same in all places. Our project will begin to address these limitations. Our goal is to develop new methods to identify optimal spatial units for the study of health outcomes among the older population.

Gene-Environment Interactions in the Health and Retirement Study

PI: Jason Fletcher, Associate Professor, La Follette School of Public Affairs, University of Wisconsin – Madison
Abstract: This pilot project will set up and begin to implement gene-environment interaction research using the restricted (geographic and genetic) Health and Retirement Study (HRS) data. HRS began in 1992 as a nationally representative longitudinal study of aging of individuals born 1931-1941 and their spouses. There are now >10,000 individual with genetic data collected. We plan to use these genetic data in exploring the potential interactions between health policies and genotype in predicting health behaviors. Genetic variants will be examined as potential explanations of heterogeneity in the main effects of environmental effects. In addition, this pilot can help study the potential differences in gene frequency of population stratified by health behaviors.

Standardization and Motivation to Provide DNA Samples: Rapport and Motivation in the Standardized Interview

PI: Nora Cate Schaeffer, Sewell-Bascom Professor, sociology
Abstract: The interviewing methods of standardization were developed to support obtaining reliable measurement in large population studies conducted by production interviewers. In addition to the requirements of measurement, contemporary researchers also confront the challenge of motivating respondents to provide the sensitive biological information, such as DNA samples, that forms the foundation of an ambitious research agenda. In this project we examine whether interviewers working under the constraints of standardization introduce responsive behaviors that engage respondents and increase their motivation to comply with sensitive requests. Using pairs of survey respondents matched on their propensity to provide a saliva sample for study of their DNA in response to a request made some time after the interview was completed, we test whether interviews in which behaviors that signal responsiveness by the interviewer and engagement on the part of the respondent increase the odds of complying with the request for a DNA sample.

Disrupted Family Dynamics: How Children Are Affected by Sibling Death, and Disability

PIs: Barbara Wolfe, Richard A. Easterlin Professor, Economics
Jason Fletcher, associate professor, La Follette School of Public Affairs
Jan S. Greenburg, professor, School of Social Work
Marsha Mailick, Vaughan Bascom and Elizabeth M. Boggs Professor, Waisman Center
Abstract: There is a large literature on the family determinants of child achievement, development, and life outcomes. One aspect of family determinants that has been the subject of only limited research is the influence of siblings particularly non-normative sibling relationships, such as when a sibling is disabled or dies during childhood. Our project focuses on non-normative sibling relationships by exploring the family as a complex, dynamic, social, and reciprocal setting in which children (and parents) develop. We further explore how family disadvantage may moderate or exacerbate the impacts of sibling relationships and how these sibling relationships affect future family disadvantage.