Alumnus discusses health disparities

Megan Strickland

Every individual has the potential to change society and the conditions around them, but they are also subject to conditions that are placed upon them, said UT alumnus Brian Finch.

Finch, who graduated in 2000, spoke about the potential impact research can have on pinpointing causes of health disparities in the future at the Population Research Center’s weekly brown bag lunch talk Friday. His team, composed of Audrey Beck and Sam Lin, post-doctoral research fellows at San Diego State University, is focusing its research on social factors that influence health disparities which have not been easily measured in previous research, he said.

“The sort of more neglected notion of temporal changes as they relate to health disparities is that notion of the cohort,” Finch said. “[People] are born into certain environments, and these environments have an effect on them.”

Finch, now a professor of sociology of public health at San Diego State University, has spent three years working with Beck and Lin to project the causes of health disparities, such as life expectancy differences, between African-Americans and their white counterparts. The team uses a method that also evaluates the effects of aging and specific time periods on health disparities, Finch said. He said the study of aging and time period allows the models to more accurately identify when environmental factors effect the cohort.

“If you look at health disparities over time, we see that they are consistent but not persistent, and if we attribute these racial differences to anything other than genetics, we realize they might be subject to social forces,” Finch said.

In addition to utilizing data available from the U.S. Census Bureau to test the models on health disparities documented in the past, the models can be used to predict the severity of social conditions of health disparities in the present, Finch said.

“In the case of the recession, parents start to constrict their spending, be more careful, perhaps spend less time at home and more time at work and so forth,” Finch said. “These are things that could affect individuals.”

Finch said the group could use the models to study the effect of the recession on health in the United States, which is one of the reasons why sociology professor Robert Hummer said he believes it was important for Finch to speak at the brown bag lunch talk.

“The accurate measurement of health disparities is fundamental to U.S. society,” Hummer said. “The data and methodology Brian and his team are bringing are cutting edge.”

Printed on Monday, November 21, 2011 as: Alumnus talks racial health disparities