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Green working to enhace Woodlawn Cohort dataset

New project would identify critical pivotal influences along the life course

Faculty Associate Kerry Green and colleagues are following up research using the Woodlawn Cohort to develop a dataset that can be used by researchers for years to come to identify complex patterns, subgroup differences, indirect pathways and targets for early intervention that are critical to reduce health disparities and improve health outcomes for at-risk urban Blacks.

"Although it is purported that adverse health outcomes are due to a combination of disproportionately greater adversity over the life course (e.g., poverty, crime, discrimination) and unhealthy behaviors (e.g., drug and alcohol use), few studies have prospectively examined these aspects of the lives of Blacks from childhood into the 50s and 60s," Dr. Green noted.

The Woodlawn Cohort is well-placed for such research. This comprehensive study has followed nearly all children entering first grade in 1966 in Woodlawn, a poor Chicago community (N=1242). Information from mothers, teachers, and official school, criminal, and death records are integrated with data from cohort members themselves to build a study that provides an invaluable opportunity to examine social adaptation and health over the life course for an understudied population.

"This one-of-a-kind dataset spanning more than 50 years will allow in-depth exploration of both normative development and deviance, challenging assumptions of Black homogeneity and reframing the current deficit conceptualization to focus instead on pathways to successful aging, cognitive functioning, health and resilience," she said.

Specific aims of the proposed project are:

  1. identify subtypes of aging for the Woodlawn cohort of Blacks in midlife using indicators of cognitive, physical, functional, social, and mental health to assess those who are aging well compared to those who are not, as well as assess mortality based on cause of death and timing;
  2. determine the specific risk profiles across the life course that influence aging for urban Blacks into midlife; and
  3. identify specific and malleable protective factors across the life course that affect aging for urban Blacks into midlife. 

Guided by a life course framework, the uniquely qualified research team will employ advanced locating technology and sophisticated analytical approaches tailored to longitudinal research. The team expects to make important contributions to understanding life course influences on aging in Blacks, with a specific focus on cognitive, physical, and psychological functioning. The long-term goal is to inform intervention development and policy by identifying critical pivotal influences along the life course that may alter aging trajectories and improve health outcomes.