Strategic Area: Social Justice and Health Equity

Upward view of a multiracial young friends making a huddle against sky

The department maintains a strong commitment to social justice and health equity. Our goal is to remove the systematic and structural barriers that prevent individuals and communities from attaining the highest possible health status and best quality of life. We recognize that social factors—such as entrenched poverty, discrimination, low social cohesion, and lack of political power, among others—disadvantage certain groups and privilege others. In our research, we seek to address these social determinants of health, which have an influence above and beyond individuals’ health-related knowledge and behaviors. Accordingly, we train students to identify and analyze health disparities, with the objective of creating a cadre of social justice public health scholars and practitioners.

A guiding question in our work is: How can we integrate the department’s other strategic areas (rural health, community engagement and participatory approaches, and theoretically based and culturally informed interventions) in support of social justice and health equity?

Here are some of the social justice and health equity related projects our faculty are currently engaged in:

Promoting Culturally Appropriate Care for New Iowans

Rima Afifi & Will Story

Will Story
portrait of Rima Afifi

In collaboration with the College of Law, Linn County Public Health, and the Iowa Bureau of Refugee Services, this project aims to determine Iowa refugees’ cultural understandings of mental health needs and services; assess the facilitators of and barriers to effective treatment and reduction of psychological and emotional distress among refugee communities; and identify best practices for treating refugee mental health needs in eastern Iowa. More information here.

Centers of Research Excellence in Adolescent Health

Rima Afifi

portrait of Rima Afifi

This project seeks to inform the possible establishment of centers of excellence in adolescent health (with emphasis on sexual and reproductive health) in West Africa and the Middle East and North Africa regions.

Definition of New Destination Community

Natoshia Askelson

Portrait of Natoshia Askelson, professor in the Department of Community and Behavioral Health at the University of Iowa College of Public Health.

We have formed an interdisciplinary workgroup to develop and operationalize a definition for “new destination communities” at the Zip code level. After establishing face validity, we are developing a proposal to establish which health outcomes are associated with these communities through analyzing restricted data.

Iowa LGBTQ Health Survey

Paul Gilbert

Paul Gilbert

In partnership with colleagues from One Iowa, the Iowa Cancer Consortium, and Des Moines University, Dr. Gilbert served as principal investigator of a 2017 state-wide survey of Iowa’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) population. The study’s goal was to collect detailed information about the health status and needs of Iowa’s LGBTQ community, which would guide future advocacy and program efforts as well as serve as a way to monitor changes over time. Much of what is known about LGBTQ health has come from research done in large urban areas, often in coastal states, with scant attention to sexual and gender minorities in Midwestern or rural states. Thus, the study’s goal was to collect detailed information about the health status and needs of Iowa’s LGBTQ community, which would guide future advocacy and program efforts as well as serve as a way to monitor changes over time. A summary report will be available to the general public by the end of Summer 2018; additional analyses are ongoing with the goal of submitting manuscripts to scientific journals.

Factors Responsible for Racial-Gender Disparities in Alcohol Services Use

Paul Gilbert

Paul Gilbert

Dr. Gilbert recently completed a study that was funded by the National Institutes of Health to test a theoretically derived model of racial and gender alcohol treatment disparities. The goal was to identify factors that explain the lower use of treatment services among women (compared to men) and among some racial/ethnic minorities (compared to Whites) in order to inform future interventions to improve use of alcohol services. The first paper to come from the project was published in Spring 2019 and reported a consistent gender disparity in alcohol services use. A second paper reporting findings to explain the lower use of alcohol services by women compared to men is in preparation.

Sociocultural Causes and Public Health Implications of Teenage Pregnancy in Western Kenya

Will Story

Will Story

Teenage pregnancy is common in western Kenya, which puts girls and their children at increased risk of adverse health outcomes, such as prolonged labor, which can lead to stillbirth and obstetric fistula. Early pregnancy is often associated with cultural norms related to early marriage, gender power dynamics, and stigma associated with pre-marital sex. In partnership with Tangaza University College and Gynocare Women’s and Fistula Hospital, this project aims to explore the cultural beliefs that put girls at risk of teenage pregnancy, as well as the consequences of teenage pregnancy, in western Kenya.