American Life Panel

I had the great fortune to attend the annual meeting of the Population Association of America last week.  I first attended when it was in New York City, and was sort of intimidated by it- in terms  of heavy hitters in demographic and population health research, they are all there.  The men and women whose work shaped the foundations of most demography students’ understandings of the world go to PAA: Sam Preston was on the program.  The guy that LITERALLY wrote the book on life table analysis.

I have come to appreciate the depth of the sessions offered.  As a demographer and health researcher, I love the fact that at any time, there are multiple sessions where I might find something of interest or useful to me.  This is different than the annual Sociology meetings, where the demography and population health sessions are all held on one day- leaving the demographers either very bored or with a lot of extra time on their hands because many of the sessions are outside of population and health.

Yes, I am aw4835996128_60a1075127_oare that this might make me a bad sociologist.

That said, I wandered into the Rand American Life Panel exhibition.  “What?  Excuse me, what?”  You ask.

Well- let me tell you.

RAND has a standing, nationally representative, probability-sampled panel of respondents that can be deployed for survey research.  It started in 2003 with a five year grant from NIA to study methodological issues of internet interviewing among older populations.  It has expanded from 800 panel members over the age of 40 to over 6000 participants, aged 18 and older.  This in and of itself is pretty nifty.  But it also includes a vulnerable population cohort (individuals recruited and incentivized from zip code area with high percentages of Hispanics or low-income individuals).

This is cool for primary data collection efforts.  Let’s say you get some $$ and want to do a survey research project.  But maybe you don’t have the infrastructure or support to have a massive data collection effort.  RAND might be a decent avenue for you to get responses to your survey.

But, even cooler, is their data repository.  After initial embargoes on it, the data go into a database that can be used *for free* by researchers.   The topics are fairly diverse, including life satisfaction, social security and health,  presidential polling, health literacy, etc.  It’s brilliant.

From a demographic/health perspective, some of the more interesting datasets are on Longevity,  Breast Cancer, Long Term Care Insurance, and Health Expectations.

Very cool, indeed.


Research in Service of Action


Utilizing services of the SSRC this summer, Associate Professor of Sociology Fernando De Maio and students from the Master of Public Health program have been working with Rush University Medical Center to compile a portrait of what health looks like in the eight West Side and three Oak Park Community Areas that make up the hospital’s city and suburban patient base.

This is among the first projects of the new LAS Center for Community Health Equity (CCHE). Co-directed by Fernando and Dr. Raj C. Shah, a geriatrician and an associate professor in Rush’s Department of Family Medicine and its Alzheimer’s Disease Center, the Center is embarking on an ambitious goal: to help improve community health outcomes and eliminate health inequities in Chicago. By linking the two institutions’ research, teaching and experiential assets in a strategic partnership across disciplines, it aims to connect research and action, recognizing that, “it is not enough to identify a problem and then do nothing to fix it,” Fernando said.

Every three years, as a condition of the Affordable Care Act, non-profit hospitals must conduct a Community Health Needs Assessment describing the health needs of the residents within their service area and to what extent they are meeting them. They receive a mandate and an injunction (don’t exclude any populations within the service area), but get little methodological guidance, Fernando noted. DePaul’s participation through the CCHE now offers an opportunity to introduce “a social science approach” previously missing from Rush’s health assessment, Fernando said. Before, qualitative data was a very small component of the report, which lacked the “richness” valued in social research. “The actual voice of the participants was lost,” he noted.

The benefits of collaboration are already evident. A combination of health care utilization information from Rush, sociodemographic and economic data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), along with GIS mapping and data analysis from the CCHE (assisted by the SSRC) have added a significant change to the next report: Austin will be included in Rush’s Chicago service area for the first time. The 2015 assessment will also include quantitative data collected by a Cook County-wide collaboration of hospitals and qualitative information from focus groups. “The end result, I think, is going to be one grounded in qualitative insight,” Fernando said. “The voice of residents — in Austin, West Garfield Park, North Lawndale and other high-hardship communities — should have a more prominent role in the report.”

DePaul students are benefiting from the opportunity to directly observe the assessment planning, implementation and analysis processes. Students Denisha Brown, Kerianne Burke, Ernesto Flores, Aneta Jedrazsko, Maggie Nava and Adenike Sosina have participated as focus group note-takers, facilitators and transcribers. Denisha and Maggie got to join Fernando on a Rush committee that formulated the focus group questions, and Kerianne helped Fernando and Dr. Shah analyze the CDC data. The SSRC has trained students in how to represent data through GIS maps and how to use SSRC transcription equipment to capture the focus group discussions. Fernando said his preliminary examination of the initial transcripts is already revealing “valuable insight, which should add a layer of richness to the community health needs assessment.”

As of September, the Center will be housed at the Loop campus. An official kick-off event is scheduled for Oct. 29 at Rush. “All of us are really excited by the potential of the Center,” Fernando said. “It is a way for us to meaningfully collaborate across disciplines and professions, with community involvement, and work on one of the big injustices in our city — the simple and stubborn fact that your zip code largely determines your life expectancy.”

Boarding: Train to Standingdeskville

If you haven’t gotten on the train to Standingdeskville, a recent study, published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise includes results that might help you punch your ticket.  Using data from NHANES (the US Health and Nutrition Examination Survey), Gennuso et al found that participants who sat the most hours every day had greater odds of elevated blood sugar, high blood pressure, a poor cholesterol profile, and higher levels of body-wide inflammation, regardless of how much exercise those individuals got during the day.  Essentially, it didn’t matter if you ran marathons or walked on a treadmill before work, if you went to the office and sat for 8 hours, then sat for 3-4 hours at home after dinner watching the telly, you had higher levels of the bio-markers that indicate overall health.


Another study, published in 2012 by the British Journal of Sports Medicine examined the role of sitting time for overall health and longevity, using data from Australia.  Those results, by Veerman et al concluded that every hour of sitting time after the age of 25 reduced an individual’s life expectancy by 22 minutes.  In the grand scheme of things, 22 minutes over the course of a life time isn’t that much.  Until you think you about how much time we spend sitting: commuting to work, playing video games, reading the paper, eating meals, out drinking with friends, at our kids’ soccer games or swim lessons. It adds up.  Veerman et al estimated that watching television for 6 or more hours a day decreased life expectancy of typical adults by five years, even if the individual met the standard medical guidelines of 30 min of moderate physical activity on most days of the week.  The moral of the story: sitting on our bums at night and during the weekend is killing us.  Literally.  Killing us.

Obviously, we care about this at the SSRC because we want everyone to be fit and active and healthy.  But we also understand that it’s easier to be academically productive when you are fit and active and healthy.  We offer some other suggestions for getting more physical activity:

-Wear a pedometer.  Between the Nike Fuel Band, the Fitbit, the Basis, and the Jawbone, there are a variety of ways that one could easily and seamlessly track one’s physical activity.  If you decide to go the Fitbit route, you could friend SSRC methodologist Jessi Bishop-Royse.  She enjoys heckling Fitbit friends.  If you insist on having non-app options, Amazon has a plethora of options.

-Recognize that for some people, some tasks are better suited for seated concentration (data analysis, writing) whereas other tasks do not require that level of commitment (like answering emails, talking on the phone).

-Instead of having meetings around a conference table in a conference room, start having walking meetings.  SSRC staff has reported this to be preferable to traditional meetings, particularly when the weather is joyous.

-Set an calendar item to remind yourself to move.  Even if it is only walking across the street for coffee, you are getting out of your chair.

-Exit or board public transit a stop early or a stop later than you would normally.  This gives you a few extra minutes of walking prior to arriving at your destination, and no one ever died from 5-15 minutes of extra walking.

-Use commercial time wisely; use those breaks to handle mundane household tasks (like laundry or dusting).

-If your residence is spotless and sparkling, you could try doing physical fitness challenges during your favorite programming. For example, while enjoying The Walking Dead on AMC, one could participate in this challenge.